Hed: Nationals bring new pressure for THS Academic Decathlon Team
By Monique Harrison
All eyes were on the Tupelo High School Academic Decathlon Team when they participated in February’s state competition.
After all, the school had quite a winning legacy to consider, holding claim to 10 consecutive state championships in the competition that is designed to test students’ knowledge of nine subject areas.
But after clinching state title No. 11 at the Jackson competition, the team’s nine members began to feel a different kind of pressure as they prepared for national competition, which will be held in Atlanta this Friday and Saturday.
“At the state competition, you feel like you have to be No. 1 because that expectation is there,” said senior Bryant Hill, the only student returning from last year’s team. “At nationals, there’s still a great deal of pressure because you want to represent the state well, but it’s not the same kind of pressure. It’s not as … intense.”
Last year, the team placed eighth out of a field of 45 in the national event.
Hill said he feels better about the team’s odds this year.
“I feel more prepared,” he said.
The team has practiced every afternoon during fifth period – a time the school has set aside as a regular academic class period for team members. The class counts as a humanities elective, with students receiving grades based on their successful mastery of material. Team members also practice for several hours Tuesday nights, along with regular Sunday practices.
That’s not to mention all of the individual study time students have spent pouring over their 4-inch-thick binders, which are overflowing with dog-eared study sheets, highlighted in spots with notes scribbled in the margins. Students have been working through the notebooks since they first received them last November.
“We’ve done a lot more individual studying (since state competition),” said junior Sarah Robinson. “There’s a lot of work to do.”
One aspect unique to the national competition is the Super Quiz information.
In Super Quiz, students are separated and given a computerized test, buzzing in their answers. The event is not timed, and students do not race against each other.
This year’s topic – the United Nations – has some team members at least a little frazzled.
“There are a lot of percentages and other statistics,” said senior Brandon Ashcroft.
“It’s just a tremendous amount of information,” said senior Jana E. Kellems. “We have an amazing list of acronyms we have to memorize. The problem is, the United Nations covers so much information.”
On Friday, students will be writing essays and delivering pre-prepared speeches. Students will also participate in interview sessions.
Saturday will be spent taking individual tests in nine basic subject areas, ranging from arts and literature to the sciences. The Super Quiz competition is set for Saturday afternoon, with awards announced at Sunday’s awards banquet.
Discussing packing plans Wednesday afternoon, the students seemed more concerned about how to cram their books into their suitcases than they were about which clothes to pack.
“Half of one suitcase will be filled with books,” said junior Sarah Robinson. “We’re going to be studying.”
Students say they’ve been doing plenty of studying outside of academic decathlon the past week or so.
“We’ve been cramming for tests,” Ashcroft said, referring to several assignments he had to complete before being able to miss school Thursday and Friday to compete this weekend.
“And convincing our friends to take good notes for us while we are out,” Kellems added, looking up from a paperback book she was reading before a final practice Wednesday afternoon. “That’s important.”
Hoping to encourage students before their 8 a.m. departure today, State Sen. Alan Nunnelee presented students with copies of a proclamation passed by the Legislature.
The proclamation recognized the school for its repeated success in state competition, and students’ willingness to invest so much study time in preparing for nationals.
“I want you to know that your state is very proud of you, whether you win or lose in Atlanta,” Nunnelee said. “You have represented us well.”