Features: Taking Calculated Chances: A Great Lesson from the 1995 Brilliant Science and Math Quiz

Laud E. N. Freeman

Taking Calculated Chances: A Great Lesson from the 1995 Brilliant Science and Math Quiz

The National Science and Math Quiz is fast cementing its place as a landmark feature on our national calendar.

Thanks to traditional and especially social media, the buzz has been exciting, the tension palpable, the jama, exhilarating. Hearing the iconic signature tune is nostalgic -it evokes old memories of the fierce, pulsating contests of the 90s, when the quiz was called Brilliant Science and Math Quiz, with Prof. Ewurama Addy of blessed memory as Quiz Mistress. Brilliant soap was the title sponsor then, hence the name. Marketing expediencies apart, brand Brilliant aptly captured the essence of the competition.

Last year, the quiz’s signature tune particularly triggered a journey down memory lane- to 4th and 5th round scenes of a 1995 quarter final contest between two academic giants; Mfantsipim and Presec. Call it an intellectual el classico and you would score a full 3 points. That contest occupies a special place in the deepest recesses of my mind because as an age cohort, my mates and I had just begun our secondary school journey. The lads we were, egos and bragging rights were prominently at stake. A win for one’s school would lend ultimate legitimacy to the braggadocio and cement our convictions that we joined and were sailing with the best ship-academically speaking.

The scholars from Kwabotwe hills, clad in precision-pressed light orange shirts over khaki trousers, were a trio whom the top marksman of team Presec would later colloquially describe as a “bunch of sharks”. Mfantsipim School’s talisman was a rare gem of an intellectual who combined good looks, oratorical finesse, culture and uncommon scholastic ability – everything the fair maidens of Debu, would fall for. He was called Abraham Ankomah. Master Ankomah was popularly known in school as Paloga. And popular was he even among the greenhorns of “The School”.

For readers unacquainted with the Kwabotwe lexicon, Debu is an exclusive, affectionate referent to Wesley Girls High School. The playmaker for the blue-shirted boys from Legon, was a confident light-skinned, afro-haired intellectual maestro called Tei Abbey. Unlike Paloga, his nickname I do not know, but I later learnt about his love for reggae music and Rastafari consciousness. In the academic treasure chests of the two mission schools, these two precious stones shone with extraordinary resplendence.

As would be expected, the entire contest was nerve-racking indeed. You could have sat on the edge of a butcher’s best knife without a scratch. Perhaps, the average heartbeat rate of a randomly-selected spectator would have been worth solving in the 4th round as the problem of the day.

At the end of the 4th round, Prof. Addy scored Presec 1 out of 5 and Mfantsipim 3 out of 5. The crucial penultimate round had gone Mfantsipim’s way, yet the battle raged on in full ferocity. This contest was no place for the rookie bookie. Even for the most seasoned forecaster, it was a bewildering dilemma. A look into the crystal ball returned three words: “lost in translation”. After the problem of the day, the problem of which school would win the contest of the day still remained a problem. Unfolding was a titanic duel involving two heavyweights with equal intellectual firepower.

You just could not stick your neck out and wager lest you got caught in the uncompromising crossfire.

Then came the 5th and final round and with it the fate-defining true or false part of the contest. As the last round progressed, the exhibition of high-tempo intellectual nimbleness showed no sign of abating. Mfantsipim answered their last statement correctly. But the curtain drawer true or false question fell to Presec, and glorious Master Tei, in masterly playmaker fashion rose to the occasion. The Great Hall of the University of Ghana reverberated with thunderous cheers and applause from predominantly masculine vocal cords and hands. The cheers subsequently subsided and without a prompt, deep silence fell upon the crowd. It dawned on all that Judgement time was at hand and none save the score keeper and perhaps a couple others knew who was ‘heavenly-bound’.

In the unnerving few minutes intervening the end of the quiz and the announcement of the final results, it seemed as though all of Creation’s workforce – celestial, terrestrial and the mediatory, had paused to listen in. Those were the days when there were no digital score boards to display scores in real time. With bated breaths, clenched fists and gritted teeth, audience and contestants alike waited, most wore their pounding hearts on their sleeves. Then came the moment all creation had been waiting for…”At the end of the competition the scores are…” Presec had won the contest by a fraction of a hair’s breadth – a solitary point. I cannot not do half justice to the rapturous jubilation that erupted at the Great Hall and resonated through all Legon land. Presec journeyed onward to win the competition. You could not beat a formidable Kwabotwe team with Paloga as its master cog and linchpin and not win the coveted prize. That would have been cause for great King Solomon to review his scripts, for that would have been something new under the Sun.

A decade later in 2015, Tei Abbey recalled “…when Prof. Ewurama Addy declared the last statements for both schools I knew Presec was up by 1 point. Mfantsipim got their statement correct and thus went up by 1 point. Then came Presec’s turn with a Chemistry question. My guys knew we were behind in Chemistry and there was no way any of us could know the answer. But the scores told me I had to answer –if we don’t answer or we answer incorrectly, we lose anyway; so why not take the risk? I took it and it was a correct answer”. Such audacity in a time of uncertainty!

In this New Year and decade, wear the breastplate of wise bravery. Take a chance-a calculated one at least.

Happy New Year!

Laud E. Nyampong Freeman.

The writer is a Communications, PR and Marketing Consultant with close to two decades of professional experience across several industries. He may be contacted on Tel: 0268811122 and Email: laudfreeman@gmail.com