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.
"A lot of them were repeats from last year so we didn't have to do as much studying as last year," said Trinity Eimer.
"I quiz her in the hallway and at recess sometimes," Sam said about Ellie.
"They've done a really good job," Sofia said of Ellie and the other two students new to the competition. Testimony Nduka and Alayna Radner.
Though Black Saga is a tremendous undertaking apart from their normal academic load for the students, all agree that the thrill of competing makes the work worthwhile.
"It's a really good feeling," Sofia said of winning the county competition and going to states.
"You kind of feel like it was worth it, all the studying. And it's not just studying, it's more than that. It's a lot more than just studying and knowing the facts," she said.
"It helps you a lot in things that don't include Black Saga. It's really fun. People think, the way you explain it, they don't think it's fun. They think of it as extra homework, but it's not. It's a lot more than that," Sofia said.
According to Trinity, the amount of time and energy spent studying and practicing brings together the students, who were not close friends prior to joining Black Saga.
"We really bond," Trinity said.
"These people on your team sort of become your family. You know them just as well," she said.
Though there are plenty of pre-competition jitters, Sofia said she knows both teams will do just fine once they get started.
"We were kind of hyper and nervous," Sofia said about the county competition. "But right when we get up on stage, it all kind of goes away.
"You just do what you need to do," she said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun