Record Number of Teams Compete in Annual Cherokee Challenge Bowl

Sequoyah-Claremore seventh-grader Sidney Roland, sixth-grader Camille Merrell, seventh-grader Eli Wood and seventh-grader Garrett Merrell practice the Cherokee language with their Cherokee Challenge Bowl coach, Hellen Henry.

Published March 11, 2017

TAHLEQUAH — The Cherokee Nation welcomed a record number of teams to the annual Cherokee Challenge Bowl this week at the Sycamore Springs Ranch in southeastern Mayes County.

This year, 95 teams comprised of 380 students from 14 school districts competed on topics such as Cherokee language, history and culture.

“The whole purpose of the challenge bowl is to expose students to Cherokee heritage at an early age, and one thing I’ve witnessed is that these students don’t just participate in the Cherokee Challenge Bowl for the prizes. They come to learn and to get their minds focused on Cherokee culture,” said Mark Vance, Cherokee Nation Johnson-O’Malley Program manager.

The Cherokee Challenge Bowl is sponsored by the tribe’s JOM Program and includes four divisions: kindergarten through second grade, third through fifth grade, sixth through eighth grade and ninth through 12th grade.

Previously held at the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, an increase in the number of participants caused the 2017 competition to play out at the Sycamore Springs Ranch facilities.

“This event provides students with an opportunity to fellowship with other Natives, but also gives credibility to schools spending money and time on providing Cherokee language, culture and history,” said Tonya Bryant, coordinator of JOM special projects.

“When the Cherokee Challenge Bowl first started more than 20 years ago, they were seeing a low number of Natives participating in academic events. This competition allows students to see that they can be successful in an academic arena. I know a number of Cherokees who went to college and were successful because of their exposure to these academic challenges.”

Team leaders such as Hellen Henry from Sequoyah-Claremore Schools in Rogers County see how JOM students benefit from the Cherokee Challenge Bowl each year. Henry is a teacher’s assistant at Sequoyah-Claremore and has spent about 13 years coaching students for the competition. Students volunteer for the teams and prepare during an after-school program.

“This is the only avenue through which they can learn about their Cherokee heritage in the public school, and they are fascinated by it,” Henry said.

Topics discussed during the annual competition vary but can include matters related to current issues, government, treaties, Cherokee leaders and historic events.

“I like to learn about Cherokee legends and history,” said Macy Brimm, a sixth-grader at Gore Public Schools in Sequoyah County. “My favorite legend has to be the turtle, and my favorite person in Cherokee history is Sequoyah because he wrote the Cherokee Syllabary.”

A $50 prize is awarded to each student on first-place teams, while each second-place finisher receives $40 and third-place students earn $30. Prizes earned in JOM competitions accumulate and money cards are presented to winners at the end of the year.

The Cherokee Nation JOM Program anticipates awarding more than $18,000 in prizes this year to winners of cultural competitions, including the Cherokee Challenge Bowl.

Johnson-O’Malley is a federal program that ensures Native American children receive educational opportunities that would not otherwise be provided in a public school setting.

For more information on the tribe’s JOM Program, call 800-256-0671.

Once tallied, a list of Cherokee Challenge Bowl winners will be posted at

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