After the final questions were asked and all of the contestants’ buzzers had fallen silent, the Honda All-Star Challenge competition winners were announced, and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), became champions once again.
According to the team, that moment was surreal. Their months of nonstop reading and studying had paid off tremendously, as they secured an historic eighth championship win for the University.
Recent graduate and team captain Kimberlynn Elliot described the moment as “unbelievable.”
“It didn’t even feel real,” Elliot said. “As a freshman, I played for the championship, so I knew it was possible, but it was something about getting it done this time around with this group of people that made it really special.”
The championship team was comprised of two seniors; Elliot, a history student, and Dominique Berry, a physics student.
Berry explained that throughout the months leading up to the competition, the team became like family, spending every Saturday morning preparing for the brain bowl, and even going to dinner and movies together.
“It’s a big commitment, one that takes getting used to, and we did work hard, but most of the time we spent together we were laughing and joking. It helped make it feel less like work, and that was the best part of competing with this team. We all got along so well,” Berry said.
Imari Nalls, a freshman health services management student and the newest member of the squad, said her experience competing has been a whirlwind. Though she felt confident in her abilities to perform, Nalls said nothing could have prepared her for the moment she played in one of the final games that helped her team secure the victory.
“There was definitely nervousness there, but you really have to take it just one question at a time,” Nalls said. “I didn’t want to mess up and let my team down, but after I buzzed in and answered one question, I was able to breathe and really think, ‘we’re going to win this thing,” she added.
The decision to put Nalls in during the final match was one that longtime FAMU coach Vivian Hobbs, Ph.D., said she didn’t make on her own. Hobbs explained that one of her veteran competitors, junior engineering technology student Travian Albert, suggested she put Nalls in the game to help her gain some experience—a decision Hobbs said paid off for the team in the long run.
“Travian told me, ‘Dr. Hobbs, put Imari in. She needs the experience, she can do it,’ and he was right,” Hobbs said.
Tapped to be next year’s team captain, Albert said he had a gut feeling that Nalls would be able to step up to the plate. Because the teams were playing the best of three rounds, Albert said he would help his team recover if her nerves got the best of her.
“She was ready, and she needed to get some experience in pressure play,” Albert said. “We’ve all studied so much, and I knew Dominique and Kim would be right there to help her too. We all play off each other and use each others’ strengths.”
That’s one of the things Hobbs said she loves most about her team. After several decades of coaching teams to compete for FAMU in the Honda All-Star Challenge competition, Hobbs said this group of students was by far one of her favorites to coach because they are extremely willing to learn and not only believed in themselves, but also each other.
“They had so much confidence and worlds of respect for me. They said, ‘tell us what we need to know,’ and I would tell them what to study and they’d do it no questions asked,” Hobbs said.
She continued, “I treat them like they are my own. I treat them the way I would want somebody to treat my own granddaughter. I won’t be able to duplicate this for years to come. They really are all so special to me.”
Now that two of her players have graduated, Hobbs said she is looking for some new team members who are ready to compete. Following the championship win, Hobbs knows that some students may be intimidated to try out for the team, but she hopes that doesn’t stop them.
“I just need them to be dedicated,” Hobbs said. “Many students know more than they think they know. It’s my job to fill in the gaps of what they don’t already know, and I can do that. As long as they’re willing to put in the time, I can make them a champion.”