Academic Decathlon Team Advances To State Championship

The United States Academic Decathlon logo (USAD Facebook).

The United States Academic Decathlon logo (USAD Facebook).

Sarah Chagares, Editor in Chief

Intellectual curiosity, a passion for learning, a competitive spirit and the discipline to work hard are all attributes that the members of Ramapo’s Academic Decathlon team share. In early February, those attributes, together with teamwork, resulted in the team’s third place finish and a chance to compete at the state competition. All of the members of the team worked hard, studied with purpose and supported each other as they prepared for the regional competition; they continue to do so as they gear up for the next challenge at the State event and perhaps a berth in the National Competition.            

The United States Academic Decathlon (USAD) is an American scholastic competition for high school students. It consists of ten subjects including Super Quiz, social science, language and literature, science, mathematics, essay, economics, music, speech and, lastly, interview. The overall theme varies from year to year. This year’s theme is “The Cold War.” Each curriculum subject is designed around this overall theme in some way. For instance, this year’s science curriculum focuses on astronomy and the Space Race between the United States and the former Soviet Union. The decathletes study the resource packets for each curriculum topic and take a test on each topic on competition day. Every school puts together a team consisting of three squads with three starting participants on each squad. The squads are based on grade point averages and are called “Honors”, “Scholastic” and “Varsity”. The members who do not compete as “starters” are able to participate as alternates; however, the alternates’ scores are not used in the calculation of the team’s overall score. Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded to the students who achieve the top three scores in each topic. Honorable mention awards are also conferred. The teams with the top three scores move on to the next round of the competition. Ramapo is one of those teams!

This year’s competition, however, looked a bit different from previous years because of COVID-19 restrictions. Due to social distancing concerns, the Super Quiz event was not held and the participants delivered their speeches and were interviewed virtually. All of the written tests were also administered and proctored remotely. Students completed the test on one side of their screen while being monitored by the proctor on the other. 

Ramapo faculty member Ms. Meredith Noah, the team’s advisor for twenty-three years, was very conscious of the changed landscape due to pandemic. She stated, “The virtual competition was a challenge in that the team missed out on some of the competitive vibes and there was an absence of an awards ceremony. There were also some technical glitches that will hopefully be sorted out by the state competition.” These glitches, however, did not hinder Ramapo’s ability to advance to the next round. When questioned about what she enjoys most about Academic Decathlon, the always-supportive advisor Ms. Noah expressed that she enjoys listening to her team members talk about the topics and getting excited about learning. She also emphasized that she likes the fact that there are three levels of play, based on students’ grades. Ms. Noah happily added that, “There is literally a spot for every learner on the team.”

On the way to Ramapo’s strong team finish, several “starters” on Ramapo’s three squads earned medals and other honors. A senior captain and four year team member Madison Haji demonstrated her superior oratory skills by achieving a perfect score in the Speech competition, thereby securing a gold medal.  Haji also received honorable mention recognition in Essay, Interview as well as Language and Literature. The award-winning orator described her reaction to learning of her perfect score as “shocking.” She added that it was, “a surreal accomplishment after devoting so much of my life to this team.” The senior joined the team when she was a freshman and remembered being in awe four years ago when watching the then-winner of the speech category delivering the gold medal speech at the awards ceremony. That experience came full circle when she found herself, “filling the shoes of some of my biggest inspirations during my senior year. I couldn’t imagine a better reward or reflection of my growth.”

Another senior captain Catherine Tsairis not only wrote her way to a gold medal in the Essay portion of the competition, but she also received an honorable mention in Economics.  Senior Emily Tsairis also showed her academic prowess by garnering honorable mentions in Speech and Essay. She, too, serves in the capacity of a senior captain and Ms. Noah named her as the “Most Valuable Player” for the Ramapo team. 

Senior Gannon Ogle, another four year member of the team, helped the team move on to the State Competition by earning a silver medal in Music, a bronze medal in Essay and an honorable mention in Economics. Being on the Academic Decathlon team has been an important part of Ogle’s high school experience. He noted that connecting with his peers is one of his favorite parts of being on the team. He stated that, “Working with teammates to get the material down is a lot of fun, especially when it’s in ways that involve engagement with one another.”

In addition to the above referenced winners, other starting members of the team amassed quite a bit of hardware. Senior Ally Contrini earned a gold medal in Speech and a bronze medal in Language and Literature. She also earned an honorable mention in the Interview category. Senior Angie Novak waltzed away from the day with a gold medal in Music and honorable mentions in Speech, Mathematics and Language and Literature. Junior Juliana DeFino received an honorable mention in Speech and Junior Tamara Baghal won honorable mentions in Speech and Essay. 

The team is now gearing up for the final events of the year, the state competition and perhaps a chance to compete in the national competition. Ms. Noah thoughtfully reflected, “I have a lot of graduating seniors this year, and I wish their final year of Acadec was different . . . but these decathletes are resilient and always have a positive, enthusiastic outlook.” 

Congratulations to all of the members, both starters and alternates, of our successful Academic Decathlon team. “The Cold War” may have caused tension between the United States and the former Soviet Union, but the Academic Decathlon team is certainly red hot and simpatico with their academic skills. 

The United States Academic Decathlon logo (USAD Facebook).