For the first time in it’s 31-year history, the Rhode Island Academic Decathlon will have three teams from the same school competing on Sunday at the Community College of Rhode Island. The winning team will represent Rhode Island at the national competition in Hawaii later this spring.
That school is Warwick Veterans.
An academic decathlon team can have up to nine students, two or three in each of the ranking groups: A, B and C (ranking is based on a student’s GPA from the previous two academic years). There are 24 students participating in academic decathlon from Vets this year, and coach Steven Belanger explained it made more sense to have everyone compete.
“It was a choice between make more teams and give everyone a chance to win something, or make the rest of them alternates,” said Belanger.
Vets will have 23 competing with one alternate.
“Also, I wanted to show that we have a bunch of smart kids here,” added Belanger.
While Belanger has had more than 20 team members in the past (he has been the coach for 13 years) and has often sent two teams to competition, this was the first time he had at least six students in each rank to form three teams.
“It just worked out this year that their GPAs worked out that way,” said Belanger.
So how difficult has it been helping 24 students prepare for seven subject tests, an essay, an interview, a speech and the rapid-fire team competition known as the Super Quiz? According to Belanger, not too bad.
“A lot of times it depends on what they think they need help with,” explained the Vets English teacher, adding that he has been spending much of his time mock-interviewing students and helping to edit speeches.
While it hasn’t been a challenge logistically, Belanger admitted it was a challenge financially. Each team must be registered individually, costing roughly $300 each.
“It’s harder for them. There’s a lot of things to get, materials and such,” said Belanger. Belanger added that most of the recruiting for the team was done by his captains, who talk to incoming freshmen, current freshmen and friends to get them involved.
Co-captains Elizabeth White and Britney Lane, juniors, said having 24 students practicing (and 24 students to keep track of) has been crazy. They really had to take on a leadership role to prepare team rookies for what is coming on Sunday.
“The veterans have really stepped up, which is something this team is not used to because we usually don’t have that many new people,” said White, explaining there are actually more rookies than veterans this year.
Team veterans have been busy not only helping with time, but nerves management.
“I’m trying to help overshadow nerves with being excited,” said Lane. “The thing I express most is having fun.”
During Sunday’s competition, each team member will take individual tests in the following seven subjects: Math, science, economics, music, language and literature, art, and social science. With the exception of math, all of the subject tests also connect to the overall theme of World War I.
Students don’t have to just study the war, but the culture of that time period, including the music, art, books, business culture, lifestyle and more.
“There was a lot more to World War I than I thought,” said White.
But they all agree this year’s topic is much easier than in previous years, such as Russia (2013) and Imperialism (2012).
“None of this is stuff you are taught [in school]. You have to learn it on your own,” said Gabe Shaker, junior and decathlon veteran. He explained that teams have a nearly 10-pound binder of information to study just for decathlon.
“You can’t just read the book,” said White, explaining in addition to the study materials, there are short stories, books and more to analyze. “It’s such a long process.”
The essay portion of competition, which was also connected to World War I, was completed online last week. On Sunday, each competitor will also deliver a speech and be interviewed by a panel of judges; the speech topic is competitor’s choice.
Lane admits she loves decathlon, but it is a lot of extra work. “There are eight things to study; you have to memorize a speech. Just that balance between school work, academic decathlon, dance, our other extra curriculars, is tough,” she said.
Learning to juggle everything for the first time are rookie team members Valarie Ho, sophomore, and Jessica Ferreira, junior.
“It’s overwhelming, but it’s definitely an experience that I’m happy to have,” said Ferreira.
Ho admits she is very nervous, especially about the math portion, which includes material she won’t study in class until senior year. Both are also nervous about speeches and interview but have been practicing with teammates.
“Here you have people from different grades, different personalities. It’s just a big support group really,” said Ferreira.
One advantage Ho and Ferreira felt they had is being able to study the time period in class. Ho is finishing up her unit on the time period in history class now, while Ferreira has been learning the time period again this year in AP European History.
“I love the Lost Generation; I find it very interesting,” said Ferreira.
“On the outside it’s all glamour,” said Ho, referring to the Roaring ’20s. “But when you look deeper, like the Lost Generation stuff, it’s darker.”
When asked how it has been preparing with 24 team members, Ho had a very easy answer.
“Loud,” she said.
Shaker remembers being very overwhelmed his first year with Decathlon, but the key is experience.
“Going into this, it’s experience that gets you through it, staying calm and getting through those tests,” said Shaker.
Teamwork is also key; the group often divides up study areas and helps fellow teammates with speeches, interviews and studying. They also always have a study party the night before the competition.
The veterans have faith their teams will perform well.
“I think we’ll do well because the veterans have been encouraging the rookies,” said Shaker.
Team diversity has also helped.
“We have people from every different social group here,” said White.
“There are so many different personalities,” said Lane.
“And we feed off of each other,” said White (proving it by finishing Lane’s sentence).
The group also knows regardless of what happens on Sunday, they are getting valuable experience for college, job interviews, standardized tests and life.
“You learn so much about yourself,” said White.
“I’ve definitely broken out of my shell,” said Lane.
“This is the type of thing that opens you up to the world,” said Shaker.
Looking to next year, Belanger said the number of teams will depend on student GPAs, but he expects to maintain over 20 students in the program. The team only has one senior and may lose some due to personal reasons, but he already has six students ready to join next year before recruiting incoming freshmen.