Prior to the start of the Tuesday’s Know Your Heritage high school competition, Karen Washington, principal of Austin Business Entrepreneurial Academy, issued a bold proclamation regarding her teams’ chances.

“Oh, we will win first place – I guarantee it.”

Following the two-hour long contest featuring Austin-area high school students, Washington’s promise came true, albeit amidst some controversy. The competition, hosted by 15th District CAPS (Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy) took place at district headquarters, 5701 W. Madison. The question-and-answer competition was planned in early March by CAPS officers Glenn White and Carla Johnson. The event was scheduled for the students’ spring break week.

The three teams featured students from Fredrick Douglas High School, 543 N. Waller; The Business Academy; and the 15th District Explorer Scouts, a CAPS-based youth mentoring group. With three teams playing, the judges decided to have two teams compete first, and then have the winner play against the third team. The first game was a highly competitive, back-and-forth match between the Explorer Scouts and The Business Academy. The Explorers took an early lead.

“We felt good. We studied hard, and we were ready,” said Tijandra Barrow of the Explorers, whose team correctly identified political scientist Ralph Bunche as the 1963 recipient of the Medal of Freedom honor, and Jimmy Claxton as the first black American to play professional baseball in 1916 (Claxton, a pitcher, played in one game in 1916, 30 years before Jackie Robinson played in the major leagues).

However, midway through the third of fourth rounds, Barrow had her buzzer malfunction on two questions. The snafu was eventually corrected by round four, but the questions – both of which led to Austin Scores – were not discounted.

“I think those questions should have been done over,” Barrow insists. “We might have still won the game if we could have redone those questions with all our buzzers working. I’m a little disappointed but I am very proud of my team.”

The Business Academy team won the first match 500 to 400 when Jason Jennings correctly named Jackie Joyner-Kersee the winner of six Olympic medals (three gold, one silver, and two bronze) in the woman’s heptathlon, still an Olympic record.

“I didn’t feel any pressure at all; I knew it,” said Jennings, a junior.

In the second game, the Business Academy built an impressive 170 to 60 early lead over Douglas and seemed poised to win going away, but Douglas rallied. Closing the gap to 250-170 by the final round, Douglas needed a grand play, or answer, to pull the game out.

The fourth round played out like the ending to an episode of Jeopardy where one player would wager some or all of his team’s points in answering a question. On the question, “Who was the first African-American to star in a TV series?” – Elizabeth Jones, a freshman at Douglas, answered Bill Cosby for I Spy in 1965. Cedrick Philips of the Business Academy answered Ethel Waters for Beulah in 1950.

Jones’ answer was called correct by judges. Since both teams wagered nearly all of their points, Douglas turned a 250-170 deficit into an improbable 340-20 victory.

But since the judges were granting the first place victory to the highest scoring team, The Business Academy took first place because of the teams’ 500 points in the first game.

Some on the Douglas team voiced disappointment at the outcome, but they ended up taking third place. The students were also impressed with their effort, given that they had little time to prepare.

“We actually just found out about the competition last week, so we mostly got together in groups and individually, and studied, said freshman Clarence Harris. “This team is filled with competitors, so I knew we were going to play hard.”

“I definitely hope we can do the competition again next year,” added Jalequa Williams, a freshman. “Nothing but first place will satisfy us next year.”

The tournament’s questions were put together by Off. Johnson, who informed several Austin-area high schools about the competition.

“I thought it was perfect because it allowed the students to remain mentally stimulated during the break and research their cultural past,” she said.

Concerning her prophetic guarantee, Washington said, with a smile: “I was very confident in the students and knew they were dedicated to not only winning the competition but also learning about the glorious history.”