Black Saga championships

From left, fifth-graders Sofia Brouse, Trinity Eimer and Ellie Schumacher pose for a photo together at the Baltimore County Public Schools' Black Saga County Championships. The three girls came in first place at the county competition and are preparing for the state competition Saturday March 16 at Towson University. (Submitted photo / March 11, 2013)

After placing first in the Baltimore County Public Schools' Black Saga Competition in February, Hillcrest Elementary School's Black Saga team is gearing up for the state competition at Towson University this weekend.

"It's exciting. I'm very proud of the students," said Lisa Black, the Black Saga coordinator at Hillcrest.

"Just to continue, that is exciting," she said.

Sam Oakes, a second-year Black Saga participant, only needed four words to describe his feelings about going to states.

"Epically nervous, epically excited," the fifth-grader said.

In addition to the championship squad, another Hillcrest team placed fourth among 10 teams at the county competition and also qualified for the state competition based on an earlier showing in the regional bracket.

Both teams will participate in the state competition Saturday March 16.

The Black Saga competition is the brainchild of Charles Christian, a professor at Coppin State University and author of "Black Saga: The African American Experience."

Students must be prepared to answer more than 800 questions about the black experience in America and teams begin practicing early in the fall.

Black said students must memorize 400 facts in addition to becoming familiar with photographs, famous quotes, locations and court cases relating to black history in America.

At the competition, teams are only asked 10 to 12 questions from that bank of information.

All six students on Hillcrest's two three-person teams have unique individual study habits that they are kicking into high gear to get ready for states.

"It's a lot to study," said Sofia Brouse. "It's a lot of facts."

She said she looks for connections and hints in each question to help spur her memory.

"I look for things in the fact that relate to their name or something," Sofia said. "I try to make little mini hints that I can remember.

"I just had to keep repeating it and repeating it in my head," she said.

"It was really hard to study the locations, because each state had five locations," said first-time Black Saga team member Ellie Schumacher.

"At the county competition, they would name one location and you had to name the state it was in, so you had to study all the locations," she said.

"I wrote all of them down. Writing them down helps me remember them," Ellie said.

The students hold each other accountable for their study habits with returning team members helping newcomers catch up studying questions the veterans saw last year.