Shaw University professor Kim Leathers drafted a question with 20 parts.
Its answer grid links NBC’s Brian Williams’ recent suspension to information that weaves together television network affiliates, anchors, African-American firsts, foreign policy, elections, Nielsen ratings, literature, late-night programming and even a Ruby anniversary.
Leathers pressed “send” to challenge the team of students she’s coached to qualify for the Honda Campus All-Star Challenge National Championship Tournament March 21-25 in Torrance, Calif.
In its 26th year, the tournament is an intercollegiate battle of the brains, showcasing the academic prowess of students from America’s historically black colleges and universities.
Meet Shaw’s team: Jordan D. Galloway, a junior chemistry major from Los Angeles; Sean Kinlaw, a freshman music/voice major from Savannah, Ga.; Lionel J. Morgan, a junior computer science major from Franklinton; and Na’eem Wilkins, a senior elementary education major from Berkeley, Va.
On the practice squad: Christian Davis, a freshman biology major from California, and Christopher McMullens, a freshman social work major from Shelby.
Shelley Palmer, an assistant professor of psychology, is the team’s campus coordinator.
Eight of 11 North Carolina HBCUs advanced to the national championship. Joining Shaw are: Bennett College, N.C. A&T State University, Fayetteville State University, Livingstone College, N.C. Central University, Winston-Salem State University and St. Augustine’s University, also in Midtown Raleigh.
The 2015 National Championship Tournament will be live-streamed at noon Monday, March 23, on HCASC.com and other websites.
Now, I’d be remiss to tell this story without weaving in some links of my own:
Shaw’s all-male team defies lingering racial and cultural stereotypes of young, black men.
The threat of closing S.C. State University, an HBCU in Orangeburg, makes this story worth celebration.
“We are relevant,” Shaw spokeswoman Odessa Hines said of HBCUs nationwide. “This is an opportunity to showcase our reality: Shaw University students can stand toe-to-toe with some of the bigger HBCUs.”
To qualify, Shaw competed among 76 HBCU teams in seven qualifying tournaments in January. Forty-eight qualified to compete for “National Champion” and a $50,000 institutional grant.
Categories include literature, geography, math, science, history, religion, arts, pop culture, current events, general knowledge, business, sports and social sciences, and others.
Competitors only know “they’ll need to know a lot of information and, more importantly, know how to put it together to synthesize other information,” said Leathers, who also heads Shaw’s Honors College. “It’s higher-order thinking that requires an understanding and analysis of one’s own learning and thought processes.”
The team practices three times a week, and separately or in pairs other days. Team members read ferociously, and challenge themselves with questions, online quizzes and scrimmages with area schools.
Since the 1990s, Shaw has played 24 seasons. This is the first time in six years the Shaw team advanced to the national round.
Shaw alumni in California are invited to cheer the team on. Social media is a virtual pep club, too. Shaw’s former HCASC team captain, Donald Mitchell Jr., now a professor in Minnesota, tweeted well wishes – with photos of his first team, back then and last summer at its 10-year reunion.
For his 2015 team, Galloway, pointing to the diversity of academic disciplines and similitude of their post-graduation, envisions they’ll further boost the reputation of the first historically black university in the South in its 150th year.
“Our team is dynamic,” said Galloway, 21. “We came together to earn a tremendous accomplishment for Shaw University. I’m excited about the legacy we might leave by doing as well as I know we can at the competition.”
Sean Kinlaw, the freshman from Georgia, is making up for time he missed on his high school’s quiz-bowl team.
“I’m extremely glad I got into this,” said Kinlaw, 18, who dreams of being a game-show contestant one day. “Preparation has been pretty tough, but we have a good chance of doing very well in California.
“If we don’t win, we’ll get pretty close to winning and, hopefully, come back next year.”