Hernando team wins Brain Bowl

Published April 5, 2007

Seven determined Hernando High students won the state African-American Brain Bowl last week in Tampa. That's a first for Hernando County in a competition that demands total focus and diligent preparation.

Team co-captains Rebecca Weeks and Karen Harris and their squad, including Kim Patel, Catherine Erana, Tamara Collins, Lauren Adkins and Seth Spencer have been preparing since last August. All are seniors except for Catherine, a sophomore.

The team won the county level competition, then trounced all comers in the regionals (encompassing Pasco and Hernando counties) to qualify for state levels with nine other Florida high school teams.

The Brain Bowl, a Jeopardy-type question and answer event, is hosted by the Florida Education Fund. At the beginning of the school year, a committee identified three published books that would be used as source material for the questions.

This year, the books were They Came Before Columbus, Wrapped in Rainbows and The Color of Water. All teams had to study the books thoroughly.

"Not just become familiar with the books, they had to know them cold," said Latreetha Sharpley, team coach at Hernando High. "It's cover to cover."

Sharpley explained that competitors are asked questions keyed to a specific sentence or paragraph in one of the books. They can request a 1-, 2- or 3-point question each round.

"They may be given a fill-in-the-blank statement requiring them to complete a sentence found on, say, Page 87 of one of the books," she said.

Before they appear on stage, the teams have no idea which book will be used or what the questions will deal with. For her part, Catherine prepared 54 pages of notes.

According to Sharpley, Hernando's seven, dubbed "The Color of Friendship" because of their diversity, were prepared and focused. Their win means college scholarship funds and $400 cash for each member - and a trophy for the team.

The trophy will reside in a place of honor at Pasco Hernando Community College since that school sponsors the competition at county and regional levels, providing accommodations and meals for the team at the Tampa event.

Now, with six of the seven competitors graduating, Sharpley and Catherine will step up to the challenge of recruiting a team for next year's competition. They have high hopes.

Last year, Rebecca and Karen competed on a team with students from Nature Coast Technical High School. They missed a question early in the competition, so they lost.

"Karen was crying," Sharpley said. "They had worked so hard."

But teammate Rebecca told Karen, "Hey, don't cry - next year we're going to win it."

And at Hernando High, they did.