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Creek Nation Adds Language Round to Challenge Bowl
by Lenzy Krehbel-Burton - Tulsa (OK) World Correspondent

Buzz. Chief A.D. Ellis.
Buzz. Council Hill.
Buzz. Second Chief Alfred Berryhill.

The rooms at Trinity Baptist Church were filled with students Thursday testing their knowledge of Muscogee (Creek) Nation history, culture, current events and language at the 11th annual tribe-sponsored Challenge Bowl.

Similar to traditional academic bowl competitions, teams answer toss-up questions by ringing in on a buzzer system.

But this year, the Creek Nation's office that oversees kindergarten through 12th-grade tribal programing added a language round in which questions are asked in English and teams must answer in Creek to receive the points.

Individual students are limited in the number of times per match they can answer.

"It's not the win we're after," office manager Virginia Thomas said. "It's the learning. This is a way to prevent coaches from bringing in ringers and also encourage more kids to learn the material instead of relying on one person to carry the load."

The event has divisions for elementary, middle and high school teams.

Joe Martel, one of the event's committee members, said the smallest division had more than 30 teams signed up, with more than 40 teams registered in the largest division, middle school.

In addition to schools within the Creek Nation's jurisdiction, teams from Oklahoma City, Norman and Tahlequah Sequoyah registered.

"A couple of teams from California were trying to come this year but couldn't quite work it all out," Thomas said. "Maybe next year."

Elementary school students in grades three through five competed Thursday.

Competitions for middle school and high school teams, originally scheduled for Feb. 3 and 10 respectively, were postponed because of the blizzard.

Make-up dates are still being determined.

For sportsmanship, one team in each division will be given the Wilbur Gouge Honors Team Award.

"This is our most important award," said Jeri Brandon, the event's awards chairwoman. "It's about the spirit with which we teach our children that there is honor in defeat and that it's not all about the first-place ribbon.

"We look for teams that shake hands with their opponent after every match and that show respect to the elders that come out and show their support.

"We had a team from Beggs win the award last year who had never competed before," she said. "They didn't finish anywhere near the top, but everybody there knew that they deserved the award. The kids knew it. The sponsors knew it. The staff knew it. They were that well-behaved and that respectful."

Although the event is fully funded by the tribe's National Council, each team is asked to contribute a $10 donation upon registering. That money is put in a scholarship fund for participating high school seniors.

Two $500 scholarships will be awarded this year, one to a male and one to a female, based on student essays written about what their Challenge Bowl participation has meant to them.

"There's a common thread in those essays," Brandon said. "Many of these kids write about how their study habits have improved because of preparing for this and how it's given them a greater appreciation for who they are and what it means to be Creek."

Staffed by volunteers, Thursday's session had representatives from more than a dozen tribal government departments, as well as members of the community.

"I'm doing this for the kids," said Mallory Bible, who competed when she was in middle and high school in Okemah.

"When I did it, my teammates and I didn't know any of this stuff. Now I'm seeing little kids running around, learning the language and getting really excited about it. It's pretty cool."

For Thomas, the event serves a bigger purpose.

"We're doing this because my generation failed," she said. "We just assumed that our grandparents and parents would always be around to teach the younger generation about our traditions and ways.

"It didn't dawn on us for a while that we'd eventually be someone's grandparents and expected to take on that role," she said.

"This is a way to reach our children and show them that this is where they came from."

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