Mesa’s Red Mountain High School’s Academic Decathlon will make its big-stage debut next month at the national scholastic decathlon competition, after dominating the state finals last weekend.
“This team had an incredible degree of dedication and willingness to work to reach this goal. It’s amazing to see them put forth this kind of effort. It’s a love-hate relationship. They love reading and learning, but it is a lot of work,” Red Mountain’s co-coach Brad Kaufman said.
In fact, Red Mountain’s score at state competition is the second highest in the country so far this year. California teams are competing in their state competition this week and a handful of schools may score higher, but Kaufman expects his team will still be near the top.
The Academic Decathlon includes 10 events: written tests focused on mathematics, science, economics, language and literature, music, art and social science, plus an essay, speech, and interview portions.
Each year, a theme is chosen for the competition. This year, it was “Russia.”
The competition is especially popular in the Western states, Kaufman said, with California putting forth a large number of teams and funding for the program. Arizona teams have placed in the top 3 in 27 trips to the national competition.
Since 2002, two schools have represented Arizona at the United States Academic Decathlon consistently, with Mesa’s Mountain View High School and Tucson’s Canyon del Oro flip-flopping the role year after year.
Because of its high score and second-place finish at the state competition, Canyon del Oro will also make the trip to Minnesota for the April 24-27 national event.
About half of the Red Mountain team competed last year, including senior Evan Stabley, 17.
Stabley said after the team’s second-place state finish in 2012, it knew what it needed to do to place on top this year.
“Being on the team from last week showed how much hard work you had to put in to the packets and reading in order to do well and score well,” he said. “Half the team is from last year. I think we had a pretty good knowledge about how ‘Ac Dec’ works and what we needed to put into it.”
Rules require that teams – in some cases made of as many as 10 or more students – have at least have two “A” students, two “B” students and two “C” students. And because of how students are scored, it’s not enough to just have one or two standout members, Stabley said.
“You can’t win without a team. Team is most important. You can have one really good person, but you wouldn’t win,” Stabley said.
Besides Stabley, the Red Mountain team includes: Will Morrison, Rachel Hutzell, Jake Cates, Harrison Finzel, Brandon Hertneky, Ben Williams, Alex Sabrowsky and Ashlyn Salafia.
Team members are taking a “few days” of rest during spring break this week, but they’ll be back in action when school resumes. They meet every day during their Academic Decathlon class. This year, team members also volunteered to stay after school two to two-and-a-half hours to continue their studies.
Besides raising funds to award scholarships to top scoring teams, the Arizona Academic Decathlon Association tries to gather enough donations to help the teams representing the state at the U.S. competition.
This year, there’s even more fund-raising in the works, Kaufman said, as the association aims to help both Red Mountain and Canyon del Oro students make the trip.
Extra-curricular activity tax credits may be available to Arizona residents who make donations, Kaufman said.
“This program will not survive without donations. The state doesn’t pay a penny for this program, yet as a state we reap the benefits of it by keeping these kids in schools, in-state, and in challenging our best and brightest,” Kaufman said. “There really isn’t anything else like this in the state.”
Stabley said that because of scholarships he has earned from his personal and team performances at regional and state, he has decided to attend Arizona State University in the fall and study economics and psychology.
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