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HBCU teams go head-to-head at the annual Honda quiz bowl

The academic all-star challenge has been helping students and changing lives for 28 years

When you think of competition among historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), you usually think about sports. But for the past 28 years, a quiz bowl tournament sponsored by Honda has also helped students and universities hone their competitive and academic skills.

Oakwood University was the winner of the 2017 Honda Campus All-Star Challenge (HCASC) competition in April in Torrance, California. The Huntsville, Alabama, school won $75,000 that will go toward academic grants. Bowie State received $30,000 for second place, and semifinalists Florida A&M University and Tuskegee University got $20,000 each. Forty-eight schools participated.

Honda supports HBCUs because of their unique and critical role in higher education. More than 125,000 HBCU students have participated in the All-Star Challenge, and more than $8 million has been awarded to their institutions since 1989.

“HCASC is more than showcasing your knowledge,” said Hampton University sophomore participant Clarence Stephens. “You are also given the opportunity to meet and network with like-minded people from other HBCUs.”

Only undergraduates can participate in the four-day national championship tournament. There are four participants for each school, as well as a coach and an institutional representative. Two teams go head-to-head for three rounds: one player versus another in each round (the fourth player is swapped out). They are challenged on subjects including HBCU history, sports, academic subjects, black history and common knowledge.

Students and alumni who have competed say the All-Star Challenge has changed their lives.

“The game has given me a family, figuratively and literally. … I met my wife, P.J. Green, when she was a member of the Hampton University team in 2001,” said Keith J. Green, a Tuskegee graduate and competition volunteer the past 13 years. “While we lost touch soon after, 10 years later we both were invited back to be volunteers. We reconnected purely out of friendship, and our friendship grew into a life partnership, leading to our marriage in 2013. We now have a 2-year-old son.”

Although the tournament is only four days long, the All-Star Challenge aims to create friends for life. Players attest to having gained more than general knowledge from participating in the games.

“As a player, I was exposed to knowledge that not only helped in game play but taught me more about life. I was able to interact and make friends with my brilliant peers, who not only encouraged me to be great by example but also with genuine friendship,” said DeMicia Inman, a graduate of Kentucky State University and a two-year participant.

The competition is intense, but there are also some perks, including a tour of Honda’s headquarters and a trip to Disneyland.

“HCASC really gave me my ‘niche’ in college. It allowed me to show off my competitive spirit. I laughed, I cried, I was angry, and it was all for the love of the game,” said Chynna Keys, a graduate of Bowie State University, an All-Star Challenge participant from 2013-15 and a two-year volunteer. “I gained some amazing memories and some brilliant friends for life through HCASC.”

Added John L. Williams, a Albany State University graduate and current coach for the school: “It was one of the few spaces where I could be my authentic self, because everyone at HCASC was deeply engaged in learning, knowledge acquisition and friendly competition. For my team [during my playing years], we built a bond and familylike atmosphere where we supported each other in both competition and in life. I am forever grateful to Honda for that.”

Honda also sponsors the annual Battle of the Bands, which was established in 2003 to celebrate and support the excellence of black college marching bands and the unique academic experience offered by HBCUs. To date, this competition has provided eight top HBCU marching bands with the opportunity to perform on a national stage. Honda has awarded $10 million to support music and educational programs at HBCUs.

Kyla L. Wright is a Rhoden Fellow and a sophomore journalism major, graphic design minor from Detroit. She attends Hampton University and writes for the Hampton Script.