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News Maryland Baltimore County Catonsville

Preparation part of reward for Catonsville's Black Saga competitors

While there was no topping perfection on Feb. 22 at New Town High School, there was something to be gained from determination for the team from Hillcrest Elementary School.

It took the last of three bonus questions to determine the second place winner in the elementary division of the annual Black Saga competition on Saturday.

While Chapel Hill Elementary School captured first place with a perfect score, two teams from Hillcrest Elementary and one from West Towson had remained deadlocked for runner-up status.

The knot was finally pulled apart with the answer to the question of who wrote, "The Weary Blues?"

Only Hillcrest Two had the correct answer — Langston Hughes — and with it, became the second place winner while Hillcrest 1 and West Towson tied for third.

"Great job everyone," Josh Parker, the moderator of the contest, told the nine teams on the stage. "I can' tell you how proud I am of all of you."

Saturday morning's event brought together 15 teams of students representing 12 county public schools that had survived two rounds of semifinal competition.

In addition to Hillcrest, Chapel Hill and West Towson, there were also teams from Cromwell Valley, Gunpowder, Pinewood, Pleasant Plains, Wellwood International and Westchester elementary schools, and Catonsville, Golden Ring and Sudbrook Magnet middle schools.

"I think it is a great, fun way for them to learn about African-American history," said Beth Allen, the Westchester Elementary team coach.

"It builds teamwork. They enjoy learning together and practicing. There are so many questions, it's amazing," Allen said.

While Westchester finished fourth, their parents and coaches were still excited.

"I am so proud of the work they have done," said Ganine Chrystal, whose son, Devlin, 9, was on the team." Lots of teamwork."

Devin Chrystal's teammates were fellow fourth-graders Matthew Perry, 10, and Daniel Huff, 9

Sara Baunoch, 10, a member of the second-place Hillcrest Two team, revealed one secret for how she remembered things.

"If it is a singer or something, I look up a little more information, like their songs," she said.

Her teammates included fellow fourth-graders Meg Schumacher, 10, and Lilly Queeney, 9.

The HIllcrest One team included Nathan Pittroff, 9, fourth grade; Mckinley Reese, 11, fifth grade; Lydia Lesnevich, 10, fourth grade.

Culminating each year during Black History Month, the Black Saga Competition challenges students to learn about African Americans by studying both historical and current events and figures.

Teams receive a packet with 400 questions as well as photos, words of wisdom and court cases to study.

Interested schools form teams of two or three students and typically start studying in October.

"It is a lot of work... and a big commitment," said Lisa Black, Hillcrest Elementary's coach. "They {the students} do a lot of work at home."

Last year, a team from Hillcrest won the competition and went on to finish second in state competition.

Black said she was just as proud of the performance by her school's two teams on Saturday.

"This is the first time both teams made it to the top three," Black said. "It is pretty impressive."

Tim Miller, 12, has competed in the competition for four years. Saturday marked the last competition for the eighth-grader at Catonsville Middle School.

"I've learned a lot," he said. "It helps me in my social studies and world culture classes."

Catonsville Middle just found out just a few days before the event that the team would be competing as the wild card in the middle school event.

As a result, the team of Sam Oakes, Kennedy Thompson and Miller was not as prepared as perhaps it could have been, and did not place.

"Most of the work is on the shoulders of the students," said Taylor Dungy, the adviser for the Black Saga group at Catonsville Middle for about five years, before the event.

"I am more of a motivational speaker. I quiz them, supply them with a snack and refreshment. They do all the hard work," he said.

This was Parker's first year of monitoring the event and the school system's Office of Title 1 specialist was impressed.

"I think it is a great event," said Parker, the Maryland Teacher of the Year for 2011-12, afterward. "Any time we can get kids performing based on knowledge is great."

Teams will now advance to the state Black Saga Competition on March 15 at Towson University.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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