For 30 years, Historically Black Colleges and Universities have gone head-to-head in a special competition to prove who can answer tough questions quick and hit buzzers fast.
North Carolina Central University has made it to California for the Honda Campus All-Star Challenge, HCASC, many times. But they have never brought home the top prize. But this just may be the year for the NCCU quiz bowl team.
The national qualifying quiz bowl tournament for this region took place in Greensboro at North Carolina A&T State University. The North Carolina Central University team was on a tear! Before beating Shaw University 540 to 80, they also topped Winston-Salem State, Savannah State, Benedict and Spelman Colleges. But the day was not over yet. NCCU would have to meet the all-women’s Spelman College, again, in the regional finals.
Alonzo Alexander kept the competition moving, serving as moderator, sort of like Alex Trebek on “Jeopardy.” Category – World’s Fairs.
“Buffalo's Pan American exhibition of 1901 is best known for whose assassination there? Buzzer! McKinley! Yes! William McKinley is right!” Alexander said, congratulating a competitor.
Alexander is a STEM education researcher at NC State. But in his free time, he’s an official moderator or question-caller for the Honda Campus All-Star Challenge. Back in 2003, Alexander was on the national championship team at Florida A&M University. For the past decade he’s been a volunteer and mentor.
“Alright, we all know how the game is played, it’s a game of face-offs and bonuses. Remember, if your team gets the bonus, come together, work together," said Alexander to the crowd.
Clayton Mack and Chris Graves coach the NCCU team. One reason they’re so good at it, is because they were students on the team back in the1990s. Mack is Central’s campus coordinator for the Honda Campus All-Star Challenge Club.
“We have an over-arching mantra to make more well-rounded students. So anyway that I can help them learn stuff that they are not going to learn in the classroom, that can make then better communicate with people, that’s what drives me," said Mack. "The rest is an unhealthy obsession trying to win that championship!"
During this time of the year, sports fans are used to seeing hundreds of African-American basketball players do their thing on the court. You could say these quiz bowlers of color are just as quick with their hands and minds. NCCU’s quiz bowl team has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen 19 times, and the Final Four seven times since the Honda Challenge began. They have made it to the finals twice, but no championship.
Deandria Harper is this year’s captain at Central. The physics major says she enjoys participating in the HCASC because it showcases Black Excellence.
“It means a lot to me, I was never like on a sports team thing," said Harper. "The closest thing I was in was Battle of the Books, which is kind of similar to this. Competition style, trivia thing.”
Harper's advice for students who want to compete in such a brain sport, "Do not be intimidated!"
The day’s competition is almost over. The last two teams standing are NCCU and Spelman. Alexander takes the mic.
“The one thing that I want to make sure I say to these two teams is, congratulations," said Alexander to a background of applause. "Being here, standing here at this table right now, means you have already pushed your ticket to California!"
But in the end, NCCU wins regional bragging rights! They beat Spelman.
“Yes! You got it! And our 2019 NQT (National Qualifying Tournament) Champions, North Carolina Central University with a final score of 520 to 445!" Alexander exclaims. "Give them a hand!”
Like other top teams across the country, North Carolina Central is working over-time to prepare for the "big dance." The national championship is next month in Torrance, California, home of American Honda Motor Company. In the 30-year history of this quiz bowl competition, a North Carolina school has never won.