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Academic Decathlon heads to Nationals, needs donations

March 21, 2018 GMT

The Olympic games hold the decathlon event, which consists of 10 events in track and field. Athletes who compete in the decathlon are highly renowned for their athleticism and perseverance. That same perseverance is seen in Watertown High School’s Academic Decathlon team as they have prepared for academic competitions this year. The team will head to Texas for the National Academic Decathlon competition in April.

Academic Decathlon is a national academic program that centers around one theme for the entire year and decathletes compete in the following ten categories: science, social science, math, literature/novel, art, music, essay, economics, prepared speech and impromptu speech, as well as an interview.

Topics of study have been Russia, India, World War II, and this year Africa. All 10 categories of testing center around the given theme. Example questions on this year’s tests have included knowing the origin legend of the African kente cloth, the number of genes in Ebola’s RNA, and why Amadou Bamba founded a new Sufi group in Africa.

Chris Kemp, social studies teacher at Watertown High School and the head coach of the team, has helped the team of nine academic decathletes become a powerhouse. The team includes: Michaela Suski, Maddy Zingler, and Cora Roost in the Honors category; Billy Kitzhaber is the alternate. Laurence Byrne, Solomon Vana, and Jared Wehking make up the Scholastic category, with Thomas Smith as the alternate; and Jared Elias, Nic Heiden, and Alex Thompson compete in the varsity category, with Aubrey Kuehl as the alternate. Categories are determined by GPA.

Chris Kemp first brought Academic Decathlon to Watertown High School nine years ago as an after-school group. The club became so popular it was turned into a class to help students study the mountain of material they need to learn, as well as help them prepare for the public speaking events and the essay writing.

Three years ago Kemp added math teacher Kris Meloy and English teacher Pam Suski to the coaching staff to help teach the curriculum. The coaches have built a competitive program, this year 32 students competed for nine spots on the competition team.

Fifty-seven schools in Wisconsin have teams, which compete at local and regional tourneys, with 20 teams earning a spot to compete at state. Over the years Kemp’s teams have made it to state six times, but have never been able to clinch a state title outright. Prior to this year, only one school from each state could go on to nationals, that being the highest scoring school. Recently, the United States Academic Decathlon changed the rules to allow high-scoring states to take a second team to nationals, as long as that team is in a different division of the overall highest team.

Last year’s team narrowly lost to Wilmot at the state competition. This year’s team wanted redemption. Two weeks ago, at state, the team members won 25 separate medals as the top scorers in different categories, as well as earning first place team awards in speech and mathematics, and the second place team in super quiz.

Michaela Suski was the overall top scorer in the entire state, setting a new record for the highest score ever earned. Maddy Zingler placed fourth and Cora Roost was the seventh place overall, which rounded out their dominance in the honors category. Jared Ellias was the third highest and Nic Heiden was the fifth highest scorer in the state in the Varsity category.

Overall, Wilmot placed first in the state, but Watertown High School lost by only 497 points, with a final score of 47,221. Due to the change in rules, Watertown will now also advance to the national competition April 19-21.

While this may seem daunting, Watertown has a good shot of placing high at nationals. Considering the high scores students have already earned, and considering that Wilmot has placed first or second in D2 at nationals in the last three years, Watertown is certainly a top competitor.

Teachers say the students are excited to compete at the larger level, but they need funds to support the trip.

“This group of students is representing Watertown, and the state of Wisconsin. They are the same students that have represented Watertown so well over the years as they have organized food and toy drives, rang the bells for the Salvation Army, donated blood, and raked lawns during Rakefest,” said Suski. “They are the same students who have carried heavy academic schedules, been on sports teams, starred in musical productions and held part-time jobs, all while studying and preparing for this competition.”

Donations can be sent to the WHS Academic Decathlon team (c/o Chris Kemp), 825 Endeavour Drive, Watertown, 53098.