OUR OPINION: Academic competition found in many venues

By NEMS Daily Journal

The revival of an academic competition team at Tupelo High School reopens the potential for state and national recognition that comes with directly, successfully competing against peer schools – private and public – like THS’ 17-year run of state championships in the Academic Decathlon.
That program, energized by the extraordinary work of teachers Bonnie Webb and Lynn McAlpin, both now retired, drew students into an experience requiring discipline, study, long hours and subject mastery.
Its successes became a source of community pride and it created aspiration among students rising into high school for an opportunity to become part of the team.
Tupelo’s success became its worst enemy in Academic Decathlon because some other schools in Mississippi stopped competing because Tupelo won every year over all comers, including the highly regarded Jackson Preparatory School.
Beyond the state level, THS was regional winner three times and finished nationally in the top 10 twice, with former THS student David Griswold winning the national gold medal for mathematics.
As with other kinds of competitions, rebuilding takes time after stopping, but the new team, which competes in the context of Scholar’s Bowl, has earned high rankings and top honors.
Rand Hinds and April Friar have taken on leadership and mentoring responsibilities for the new team, and their efforts deserve strong encouragement.
Webb and McAlpin, both career teachers, offered strong backing for the new team.
“You don’t have a school the size of Tupelo without an academic team to challenge your brightest students. Tupelo must do this. A regular classroom does not challenge them. It is not fun for these kids. This is their football team. This their soccer team,” McAlpin said in an interview with education reporter Chris Kieffer.
Team captain Rick Deaton captured the energy of the new effort: “I’ve heard they (decathlon teams) were very good. I don’t give it much thought during the competitions because we are in the moment. You can’t rest on your laurels or things that happened in the past. You have to focus on each competition.”
Tupelo’s schools have been criticized, with significant justification, for losing momentum and resting on their laurels.
Reviving the academic competition team is a positive decision that can have good, long-term impact.
The larger goal remains raising the performance of all Tupelo students – not just at THS, and not just among the top tier – into the highest levels achievable on state testing. That’s a larger competitive venue involving thousands of students, their teachers, the administration and the parents who are the core of support.