The last week of February, 140 high school students across Alaska gathered to compete for gold medals — but not the Olympic kind.
Southeast students push themselves at Alaska Academic Decathlon 030817 AE 1 Capital City Weekly The last week of February, 140 high school students across Alaska gathered to compete for gold medals — but not the Olympic kind.

The Ketchikan team after Super Quiz competition in the GCI Academic Decathlon at the Hilton in downtown Anchorage on Feb. 24, 2017. Photo courtesy of Ash Adams.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Story last updated at 3/8/2017 - 2:54 pm

Southeast students push themselves at Alaska Academic Decathlon

The last week of February, 140 high school students across Alaska gathered to compete for gold medals — but not the Olympic kind.

Teams from Juneau, Ketchikan, Craig and Metlakatla joined other Alaska high schools in the 32nd Annual Alaska Academic Decathlon to show who is the brightest of them all. Each team went from regionals to compete in Anchorage for the state title to see who will go on to compete in the U.S. Academic Decathlon in Madison, Wisconsin. Each team consists of nine members, and is made up of varying divisions: honor students (3.75-4.0 GPA), the scholastic division (3.0-3.74 GPA) and the varsity division (0.0-2.99 GPA). Each student competes in 10 events: art, economics, essay, interview, language and literature, math, music, science, social science and speech.

While Lathrop High School of Fairbanks received the highest score (for the 10th year in a row), Southeast schools performed well. Peter Stanton, the coach for the Ketchikan team, said this was their school’s best year yet. Ketchikan came in second place with only a one percent difference in score separating them from Lathrop and then tied with them during the Super Quiz, a relay of students working to answer the most questions correctly in three rounds. Stanton said this is the closest a Southeast team has come to claiming the state title, and while Juneau-Douglas High School placed second in 2015, their score margins were wider.

“I absolutely believe we will have our best shot ever at winning the tournament next year,” Stanton said.

Craig High Schools had two teams, and team one came in sixth in terms of overall score, said one of the coaches Jessica Hughes. Team one took first place for Division Three for small schools and team two came in third for the same category.

Hughes said she was proud of her students. Team two was comprised almost entirely of students who hadn’t participated in the decathlon before, but they held their own, she said.

“My huge pipe dream is that someday we take the state and go to nationals, which would be really cool,” Hughes said, explaining that due to the smaller student populations, students can be spread thin across multiple activities like student council and sports despite being dedicated to the decathlon.

One of the great things the decathlon does for small schools is allow students to diversify the subjects they study, like arthistory and music theory. It also allows them to learn from uncommon perspectives in history, Hughes said; also, courses are more in-depth, comparable to sophomore and junior college classes.

“They get exposed to things you wouldn’t believe,” Hughes said. “For example, a bunch of my kids were at a shop that had paintings on the wall that had been done by an Anchorage artist in the style of the masters. My students were having an argument on whether a particular piece was in the style of Monet or the style of Van Gogh. You’re not going to find a lot of high school students that one, can identify those painters but two, be able to discuss the merits of a copy cat.”

Tristan Douville, a senior who has competed in the decathlon since freshman year, was the top scorer for team one; he won a silver medal in economics, a bronze in science, and a gold in essay.

“Because I’m in Craig, the opportunities for public speaking are there but they’re kind of sparse, and the opportunity to interview is virtually non-existent because you, for the most part, know everyone. So knowing how to interview helped a lot, especially when I was applying for colleges last semester. It went a lot better probably than if I hadn’t participated in the Academic Decathlon,” Douville said on applying (and getting accepted) to the University of Columbia for a double major in biomedical engineering and English. Douville credits the decathlon for sparking his interest in these subjects.

Kathy Anderson, the coach for the Metlakatla team, said her team came in second for Division Three, right in between the two Craig teams. World War Two was this year’s theme; all the subjects centered on it. Next year’s will be Africa.

Alana Williams, a senior at Metlakatla, got up at 6 a.m. every morning to study with a friend, determined to have Metlakatla place in Division Three. It paid off: she won an iPad mini and a medal for being the top scorer for her school. She’s soon graduating, so without the decathlon to dedicate herself to next year she feels a bit lost, she admitted, though thinks she will look for a similar program at her future college.

Williams’ favorite subject was public speaking. She has participated since her freshman year, and for her first speech at regionals, she talked about procrastination, which fittingly, she procrastinated on.

“To deliver a good speech you have to relate to the topic you’re speaking on,” she advised, and said as long as the competitor is passionate about the subject they’re on the right track. Even if someone is not passionate about the idea of decathlon, she said, they should at least give it one year – they might be surprised.

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