Terms like “offense” and “defense” are common sports terms, but Tuskegee University’s Honda Campus All-Star Challenge team proves they have a place in its success competing in America’s premier quiz bowl for top HBCU students. The team’s ability to put a full-court press on its opponents at this past weekend’s National Qualifying Tournament in Atlanta proved its ready for the next round — the national championship tournament this April in Los Angeles.
On Saturday, Feb. 3, Tuskegee’s Honda Campus All-Star Challenge team competed against other regional HBCUs as part of a year-round program that includes campus engagement, intramural play and qualifying tournaments, and culminates with the National Championship. This year’s challenge features more than 10,000 HBCU student competitors representing 65 teams.
The fast-paced buzzer competition highlights students’ academic prowess and ability to answer questions about history, science, literature, religion, the arts and pop culture. The team’s coach of three years, Dr. Worth Hayes — whose own specialty is history as an assistant professor of in the Department of History and Political Science — called his players “cool nerds,” but noted the average team member isn’t always a straight-A, or even a straight-B, student.
“Several of our team members aren’t necessarily the strongest academically,” he explained. “But, by giving our team members a purpose, instilling a sense of community and developing them as both people and students, I’ve seen them use their participation as challenge team members to improve their academic performance.”
The team, carrying on a 29-year tradition of competitive excellence, looks and plays the part of a team focused on winning. Calling its practice room in the basement of Tompkins Hall its “War Room” and its “Bunker,” the team of 15 refers to its competitive elite as its “varsity” players. They’re easy to recognize, thanks to their varsity-style team letterman jackets.
Hayes notes that the quality of the university’s Honda Campus All-Star Challenge team is indicative of the overall talent of Tuskegee’s student body.
“We have so many smart students,” Hayes remarked. “The biggest challenge is the internal competition for their time with so many valuable on-campus opportunities for our students to make their mark.”
Hayes lauded Tuskegee University’s legacy as one of the Honda Campus All-Star Challenge’s founding institutions. Former Dean of Students Peter Spears, who Hayes called “a legend,” led what became the program’s first team to win back-to-back national championships and is now in in the program’s Hall of Fame. Since its founding, Tuskegee’s Honda Campus All-Star Challenge has made nine “Final Four” national championship appearances and has brought back two national championship titles to Tuskegee.
“I want to make sure I don’t break this baby,” Hayes joked.
It’s evident from the team’s success this past weekend against powerhouse teams like Florida A&M University and Morehouse College that the “baby” isn’t near being broken. Both wins came down to tense, close-call wins — the exact conditions Hayes said are elements of the team’s practice sessions. Practices that go well into the evening, as well as his students’ commitment and dedication, are among the “top-secret” strategies Hayes employs in leading his teams to victory.
Timothy Bateman, a sophomore from Porter, Oklahoma, majoring in biology and chemistry, said those strategies aren’t limited to knowledge.
“One tactic we can develop is buzzer speed,” he noted. “If you can buzz in before your opponent, it can throw off their rhythm and affect their confidence.”
“Preparation is the hardest part of the competition, said team captain Xavier Alexander, a senior from College Park, Georgia, majoring in political science. “In the game, anything can be asked, therefore, it is important to try and figure out what my strengths and weaknesses are when practicing”.
Hayes described practices as intense, loud and competitive, where team members both accumulate knowledge and learn the strategies of competitive game play. Junior Mya Green, a varsity player from Atlanta majoring in animal science, noted the process of becoming ready for regional and national competitions.
“We retain the information outside of practice by having power sessions,” she explained. “A group of us get together and review a wide range of topics to make sure that we clear up any weak spots, as well as retain all of the old information that we’ve learned”.
Hayes also noted that, thanks to past team winnings and support from Tuskegee University, the students’ involvement with the Honda Campus All-Star Challenge is more than memorizing facts and winning competitions. He credited the challenge with giving students a forum to share ideas, hone their networking skills, develop camaraderie with teammates and competitors, and to show off their “academic swagger” — their mastery of factual knowledge, textbook principles and the confidence they acquire through game play.
The next step for the team is its Apr. 7-11 appearance at the National Championship Tournament in Los Angles. There, Hayes noted the team will face the likes of Morgan State University, Spelman College, and Howard University.
Honda has supported and celebrated America's HBCUs for more than 25 years. Since 1989, the Honda Campus All-Star Challenge — one of Honda's largest and longest-running philanthropic initiatives in the U.S. — has benefited more than 125,000 academic superstars from across the country. More than $8.5 million in grants from Honda have provided support for scholarships, facility upgrades and other investments to improve the student experience. Along with the Honda Battle of the Bands, the Honda Campus All-Star Challenge enables schools to earn grants and positive attention for their respective institutions. For more information, visit www.hcasc.com.
Jazz Ross, an intern in Tuskegee University’s Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing, contributed to this story.
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