Although the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the NCAA Basketball Tournament this past spring, and is making the College Football Playoff scheduled for this coming January look like an iffy proposition, it has not ruined all opportunities for Alabamians to enjoy an exciting bracket competition that awards the winner a big prize. Yes, the Alabama Census Bowl, which runs from September 2 to September 30, can hopefully help fill the void left by the absence of athletic contests by offering us instead a clash between 32 counties in the state that are competing to determine which has the greatest increase in 2020 Census self-response among their residents. The stakes of the competition are high not only because the winning county will receive $65,000 to support its public schools, but because the future economic and political health of the entire state depends upon the overall response rate of all counties combined. County response rates are determined by dividing the number of households who have responded to the census questionnaire by the total number of households in the county. Self-responders are those households who have been proactive and have completed the census questionnaire online, by phone, or through the mail and therefore do not have to be personally contacted by the Census Bureau. A higher response rate means we are getting a more complete and accurate count of the population. A complete and accurate count is the best way to ensure that we in Alabama are properly represented in Congress and that we are receiving our fair share of federal funding, both of which are determined by Census data. The 32 counties chosen to participate in the Census Bowl were those that had the lowest self-response rate as of July 23. The counties were split into two 16 team divisions, or brackets, representing the eastern and western parts of the state. Starting the first week of September, one county will be pitted against another county in their bracket that has a similar response rate. Over the course of each week, the county that achieves the highest increase in self-response will be declared the winner and will move on to the next round. The eight counties that make it to the third round of competition will be eligible for monetary prizes. Those that finish third and fourth in this “elite 8” bracket will each be awarded $20,000. The counties that get to the “final four” will be competing for $45,000, with the two winning counties garnering that amount and the runners up being awarded $30,000 each. The overall state champion will be crowned on Wednesday, September 30, with the winning county being bestowed an additional $20,000 to bring its total monetary award to $65,000. The contest rules require that all counties that are awarded funds must distribute those funds for the benefit of K-12 public schools within their jurisdiction.
For those residents of Jefferson County, this competition has both a “good news” and “bad news” quality. The bad news is that Jefferson County is not one of the 32 competitors and, therefore, not eligible to be crowned champion. The good news is that the reason Jefferson County was not chosen for the bracket challenge is because, compared to the rest of the state, its self-response rate has been pretty good. In fact, Jefferson County’s current rate of 63.6% is higher than that of the entire state which is 61.7%. So, residents of Jefferson County can sit back and spend September watching the competition unfold in the Alabama Census Bowl without feeling the added pressure of being in the mix to win the championship. However, much work still needs to be done in Jefferson County to make sure that we achieve a maximum response to the 2020 Census. Certainly, what we have done so far is good, but we can always do better. If you have not yet responded to the Census questionnaire, please do so by September 30. Then, once you have submitted your response, please encourage everyone you know to do the same. If each county does its part, then the entire state of Alabama will win!