Return to Headlines

Bennett Academic Games Coaches Lead School to State Championship Win

Throughout the year, the Office of STEM Enrichment will be spotlighting teams, students, and coaches for our Academic Games, Chess, and Robotics programs. Here we spotlight Coach Hamilton Wilson and Coach Elizabeth Mohammed. Learn more about how this dynamic team is supporting the District's priority to Whole Child Commitment below.

Q: What do you teach at Bennett and how long have you been teaching?
HW: I am a 5th grade English/Language Arts and Social Studies teacher at Bennett. This is my first year at Bennett, but my second-year teaching.
EM: I have been teaching with Detroit Public Schools for 23 years now. This is my 10th year teaching at Bennett. I have taught mostly middle school and elementary math, but currently teaching Health/Yoga.

Q: How did you become an Academic Games coach?
HW: Academic Games has actually been a part of my life since I was 9 years old. I won a few medals and trophies of my own in elementary and middle school, and even went on to start my own team in high school. When I went to Chicago for college, I tried starting up teams and taught classes there--but when I started working at Bennett this school year and met Mrs. Mohammed who was also interested in restarting the team, we got an official team restarted pretty quickly. I also owe a lot to some of the other DPSCD coaches who remembered me from when I played against their schools and helped mentor me in my transition from player to coach.
EM: A few years back I wanted to bring some more extracurricular activities and fun social events to Bennett. I had donors to purchase enough of the games for Equations and On-Sets to start a team and we were off. The students were super excited about the monthly tournaments and absolutely loved Academic Games. When COVID hit it put a stop to our Academic Games team. When I was introduced to Mr. Wilson and learned he played as a kid, I knew the team would be back and ready for greatness.

Q: How did you both recruit students for Academic Games?
HW & EM: At the beginning of the school year, we went into 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classrooms and introduced Academic Games to the classes. We started earlier than any other after school group, which made it possible to get a large amount of interest while students are excited about their extracurricular options. There were certainly some students who found that AG wasn't for them. After they found a group that was right for them, we were left with those kids who had so much interest in Academic Games that their motivation practically drove the team forward. 

Q: Has the pandemic been a problem in terms of coaching and your approach to the game?
HW & EM: The pandemic has caused lots of problems, but we worked through them proactively as a team. Of course, students needed recuperation time at home if they came down with COVID--but they showed initiative in catching up on concepts they missed once they returned. Our students are also used to doing lunch and recess practice, but our move to virtual learning on the Fridays in December cut down on our in-person practice time. And in January, when we went fully virtual, we had to pivot practices entirely to an online setting. On the plus side, this let us focus more on word-focused games--but our players missed out on some valuable time playing. Still, the players ended up with a State Championship in On-Words, which we covered almost entirely online. 

Q: What were the expectations you had going into the Academic Games Championship in Ann Arbor?
HW: It was hard to know what to expect! In my time as a player, I learned that some of the best players in the country are here at Michigan's Super Tournament--so I told the players to expect the best of the best. Even though we earned trophies at every regional tournament leading up to this point, I didn't want to assume we'd do just as well at the State Championship. Still, I felt confident in my players' motivation and the unique play strategies they developed in preparation. Regardless of the outcome, I was already proud of them. 

Q: Were your kids excited, nervous, anxious about being in the Academic Games State Championships? Was it their first time going to states?
HW & EM: Apparently, one of my team captains was so excited that she was up until 2 a.m. the night before the first day of States, studying for the competition. Overall, the team was totally jazzed. For many of our kids, this was their first time at any State Championship--and it's Bennett's first time competing at the Academic Games Super Tournament--so it was tough for them to know what to expect. I think they were refreshed to be out of their normal school routine, representing their school by doing something they're confident in, but definitely nervous about what they would see and how they measured up to the competition. We must commend them, though: they managed to focus in, and channel all that energy into being the most competitive players they could be.

Q: Is this your first time coaching a championship team at the state level?
HW: This is my very first time coaching a championship team. I've gotta say, it feels entirely different from the coaches' perspective than it does from a player's perspective. One thing that stayed the same: I still felt those same nerves I felt going into my first few rounds as a competitor. It still feels like MY gameplay is being tested--even though those years have long passed. Once a competitor, always a competitor, I guess!

Q: Is this your first time coaching a championship team at the state level?

EM: This is Bennett's first time competing at the state level and mine.

Q: How did your kids feel when they realized they were state champions?
HW & EM: The kids were beyond excited. The moment was a blur, but I remember lots of jumping and gleeful screaming. Still, though, it was only the first day when they got the 1st championship and 2nd place trophies: we still had another 2 days of the tournament. After an initial celebration, they retained that same focused mood that brought them to the first State Champion and 2nd place titles. That refocus is what brought them to the second State Championship the next afternoon. After all was said and done, we partied at a local trampoline park in Ann Arbor.

Q: How did you personally feel after you found out that Bennett won the championship?
​​​​​​​HW: For a minute, I had a hard time believing it. I had been getting texts while we were eating dinner, saying "You should probably go check the results..." When I went to check, I sounded just like the kids. I jumped, I ran, I yelled. And when that initial energy wound down...I cried. I'm not a big crier typically, but it's something about how full-circle the moment was that really humbled me. When I first started, I wasn't a very good player. There was even a time where I didn't want to keep playing, but my mom encouraged me to keep at it and get some extra coaching. I got better each year, but never earned a championship by the time I finished playing. I didn't know then that my preparation was to position me to coach State Champions, not to be one myself. When I realized the completion of that moment, I thanked God for the ability to guide my students towards something so meaningful.
EM: Competing at states is tremendous pressure for the students. It is a showcase of all their hard work and brilliance. Watching the kids jump for joy as they learned how well they did was a very proud feeling for me. I know this is a priceless moment full of nothing but positive memories for our team. Our students were courageous and willing to take risks to achieve this victory. I am so excited for all their accomplishments and look forward to seeing what they do next.

Q: Do you have most of your players coming back for next year? 
HW & EM: It seems like a lot of our players are looking to play for us again. Some of our 5th graders plan to play for Bennett even though they'll promote out of the school in June. Our youngest students are already preparing themselves for competition next year.

Q: What's next for Bennett Academic Games team?
HW & EM: We are now preparing for Nationals in Knoxville, Tennessee. The students who don't go to Nationals this year will learn more advanced levels of gameplay so that they can help lead the team next year. We're also using the remainder of the year to build a strong parent network so that our kids have a village's worth of support surrounding them in the coming season.

Q: Will Bennett Academic Games team practice year-round to stay ahead of the competition?
HW & EM: The Bennett AG team is a very "work hard, play hard" team. We know that the best is still yet to come. Our students agree: there's going to be plenty of room to relax along the way, but now is no time to slow down! Practice starts back up the week after the Super Tournament.


Coach MohammadCoach Wilson