Black Saga contest helps kids, parents learn history

Patuxent Valley Middle, W. Annapolis Elementary capture annual titles

March 18, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

The Manning family was in familiar territory yesterday -- in College Park, in the finals of the Black Saga Competition, firing off answers to questions about events in African-American history.

Oldest son Kenney started it all three years ago, placing second with Howard County's Forest Ridge Elementary School. A year later, he won the top prize with Murray Hill Middle School.

Yesterday, it was his sisters' turn to carry on the family tradition.

"It just brings us together as a family because we just study and study and study with each other," Karen Manning, a homemaker from North Laurel, said as she waited for daughter Lashelle, 10, to compete in the elementary finals. Another daughter, Lakesha, 12, was scheduled to compete on a Murray Hill team a few hours later. "It builds a strong community and a strong family. This is definitely the African-American experience."

The Mannings were among hundreds of youngsters from more than 30 schools who competed at the University of Maryland, College Park campus yesterday in what has become an annual statewide contest to test young people's knowledge of black history.

The contest was started in 1992 as a way to entertain young students at Prince George's County's Beltsville Academic Center. College Park geography professor Charles M. Christian was writing a new book, "Black Saga: The African-American Experience" at the time, and began asking the young people questions.

Christian held a contest among Beltsville students the next year, and the competition grew annually as more schools heard about it. This year, elementary and middle school teams from Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's and Queen Anne's counties competed.

The impact of the learning likely will carry the children through their lives, Christian said. "They are at least more aware of a more diverse environment and perhaps can cope with it a bit better," he said.

Yesterday, the titles went to Patuxent Valley Middle School in Savage and West Annapolis Elementary School.

Elementary winners Travis Proulx, Victoria Hunter and Alex Jones studied together for weeks and squeaked by the competition. The trio bested the team from Montgomery County's Burnt Mills Elementary by a point, answering questions about black members of the U.S. House of Representatives and black winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, among others.

Alex, 10, said he figures he'll be ahead of his classmates in history class when he reaches college. Travis, 11, just wanted to "test my wits" -- and to win first place after a fifth-place finish last year.

Their parents said studying has paid off for them, as well.

"I never learned a third of this, not even a quarter [in school]," Victoria's mother, Toni Hunter, said. "I learned as she learned. ... We're a very knowledgeable family now."

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