This is Chizoba Ukairo's last chance to win it all.
The eighth-grader at Cradlerock School has competed in the Black Saga competition for the past four years. Her best finish was 10th place at the state level last year. This year, she is returning to the competition with new teammates and a renewed desire to win.
"I think we have a good team," the 13-year-old said. "I've gotten to know the competition. It's a gut feeling."
Chizoba and her teammates - Cradlerock eighth-graders Kimberly Tang-Nian and Caroline Pyon - have been studying together at the library, over the phone and at one another's homes for weeks trying to memorize hundreds of black history facts.
The three were scheduled to compete yesterday at Patapsco Middle School in the fourth Howard County Black Saga Competition, a tuneup for the state contest March 14 at Coppin State University. The county competition was scheduled to feature 15 teams and include a keynote speech by school board member Larry Cohen.
The state competition, which started in 1992, is based on the 608-page book Black Saga: The African American Experience: A Chronology by Charles M. Christian. The trivia contest pits three-member teams against one another and progresses through preliminary rounds before a whittling-down during two sudden-death rounds.
The competition includes elementary and middle school divisions. First-place teams receive $300 and a plaque inscribed with team members' names that is presented to their schools. Second-place finishers receive $200; and third-place finishers take home $100.
Howard County students typically do well at the state competition, said Mark Stout, curriculum coordinator for secondary social studies.
"We usually have a team in the top three," he said. "I'm hopeful this year."
Over the years, the competition has grown, Stout said, and the number of teams from the county has increased. The rising participation in Howard County is what prompted the start of the county competition three years ago.
"There is a lot more interest in the schools," Stout said. "It has caught on. The kids love it, the parents love it. "
Teachers say they have noticed growing enthusiasm among students.
"It's another way for the students to get into competition at the same time they are learning," said Stephanie Noonan, one of two Black Saga advisers at Cradlerock School. "They like the idea of the competition."
Bria Gibson, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Cradlerock, said she kicked her twin brother off her team after his competitive juices began to ebb. The siblings were on a team that won the schoolwide competition last year.
"We dropped him," she said with a giggle. "I let him down nicely."
Keegan Moore, a sixth-grader who returned to team with Bria this year, is confident that the group will do well at the state level despite placing second in a schoolwide competition last month.
"We're going to have team meetings, go out to eat and study and watch documentaries," the 11-year-old said.
Keegan said the support of his parents gives him extra motivation to do well.
"They are proud of us," he said. "They want us to go as far as we can."