Like any athlete devoted to winning at the highest levels, the team members of Oakwood High School’s academic decathlon team put in a great deal of overtime to build up the muscle most necessary to win: their brains.
“I’d say we’re putting in about 25 hours a week outside of school studying and preparing,” said Wilson Mullen, an 18-year-old senior on the team. “Plus we’re in class for an hour every day and we spend out lunch periods in Ms. (Lori) Morris’s classroom doing extra work. It’s a big commitment.”
Oakwood’s Academic Decathlon team recently won its third straight state championship and the nine-person team will be heading to Minneapolis in April to compete at the national competition. Last year, the school placed fifth in the country.
At the start of the school year, the competitors are given a broad topic, such as Russia. They then must immerse themselves in learning about different areas of the topic, including history, scientific advances, economy, literature and arts. They must write essays on various topics prior to the competition and on the day of the competition take several multiple choice tests on each of the areas as well as give prepared and impromptu speeches on topics.
“It’s really a great opportunity because it lets you do something different than just study one thing independently of another. You can mix all these areas together and connect the dots to see how it all fits together,” said Herbert Sizek, an 18-year-old senior on the team. “You really get to immerse yourself in learning about something.”
Lori Morris has taught the academic decathlon class for the past seven years. Around 25 students take the class and compete for the nine spots on the team. But the students say it takes up far more than just a daily class period to prepare.
“We go to a lot of other teachers for help with specific topics and they this stuff is pretty high level,” said Heather Brooks, and 18-year-old senior. “I remember coming to our music teacher with a question and he said it was something he hadn’t learned until college.”
Such a large time commitment has formed deep bonds among the teammates.
“It’s a great group,” said Cliff Goertmiller, a 17-year-old senior. “The academic decathlon lets you work with people you otherwise wouldn’t get to be with and it’s a whole new experience. We’re all together with a common goal and that’s to win.”
The rules of the decathlon dictate that the team must be made up with students with a wide range of GPAs, Morris said. And despite the time commitments, many of the students are heavily invested in other extracurricular activities, like band and sports.
“It lets students with a wide spectrum of GPAs compete and achieve,” said Nathan Gibbs, 16, a junior. “We’re all here to be competitive and display our intelligence.”