Johnston's Academic Decathlon team shines at statewide competition

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The Johnston Academic Decathlon team proved once again that it is an intellectual powerhouse as they continued their streak of finishing in the top 5 spots during last Sunday’s 34th Rhode Island Academic Decathlon competition.

To top off their day the team’s adult leaders, coaches Kerry Murphy and Debra Smyth, received the Decathlon’s Augustine Capotosto Jr. Award, presented each year to the coach(es) “whose dedication and commitment has built teamwork, fostered the goals of the Decathlon, and inspired academic excellence.”

 “What a fulfilling conclusion to a wonderful year. There’s a lot of memories, the chemistry of this group is something that’s going to be really hard to replicate in the future,” said coach Murphy. “But we have amazing young people who move this team forward and help continue to grow the program.”

Competition between the 22 teams from 15 Rhode Island high schools was tough, but in the end Johnston’s first of two teams took home fourth place with 29,659.8 points, just 329.4 points behind third place Classical High School and one spot better than their 2016 finish. A team from Johnston has finished in one of the top five positions for at least the last five years.

East Greenwich High School finished second with 31,093.1 points, while Bishop Hendricken came in first with 41,619.0 points. They’ll go on to compete in the national competition in Madison, Wisconsin on April 20 to the 22.

“I’m so proud, so proud of our group,” said Murphy. “It’s leadership, (senior) Karla Gonzalez was such an important motivational force, and I feel like she made our job as coaches so much easier because she was truly a peer leader.”

Since the beginning of the school year, the students held team meetings, members studied together, conducted mock interviews, gave speeches, discussed questions and quizzed each other.

The overall theme of this year’s event was World War II, meaning all areas of competition, with the exception of math, speech and interview, revolved around the history and culture of the era. Each competitor took a test in seven subject areas: music, art, math, science, language and literature, social science, and economics. Participants also delivered a speech and took part in an interview before a panel of judges. There was also an essay portion of competition completed online prior to the statewide contest.

“I think they did amazing, it’s awesome,” said Smyth. “They’re just phenomenal, they worked together as a team, they encourage each other, they’re just wonderful, they really are. I’m just on cloud nine right now, I’m so happy for them.”

The day was capped off with a “Super Quiz,” a quiz-bowl type showcase competition, followed by awards ceremonies.  

Junior Abigail Agnew was Johnston’s overall medal leader with four, including one gold, one silver and two bronze in the Scholastic division. She was number one in language and literature, and took second in art. Her two bronze medals came in music and social science.

“To be honest, I wasn’t expecting them I’m kind of overwhelmed a little bit. I actually studied a lot but they’re my first medals actually, I’ve been doing it for years and I’m so excited,” said Agnew, who hopes to enter the fashion industry after college. “It’s so much, fun I always have fun. The toughest part is just putting in the time.”

Junior Benjamin Budway also helped the Panthers push for a place on the podium, producing a medal in three Honors competitions. He was tied for first in science to earn his gold medal, while taking silver in mathematics and bronze in economics.

“It was very good, the tests are always really tough, but you study certain things that you feel you can do well in, and then you just perform well,” said Budway, who wants to go on to Brown or the University of Chicago to major in either mathematics or applied economics. “I’m very proud, I didn’t think we were going to do this well but we did awesome, Abby did amazing.”

Rounding out Johnston’s medal wins were senior Stanley Putnam, who won silver in the essay category, and junior Leah Spirito, who earned bronze in essay.

“I’m so proud of everybody, it’s amazing, they worked so hard,” said Johnston High School Principal Dennis Morrell.

Johnston’s first team, including alternates, was comprised of seniors Jacsmile Cassion, Karla Gonzalez, Carson Kenny and Staley Putnam; juniors Abigail Agnew, Miguel Azanon, Taylor Bernier, Benjamin Budway, Philip Jessop, Yuvia Morales, and Leah Spirito; and freshmen Michaela Healy and Alexander Tum.

The second team and its alternates was made up of seniors Tyra Banks, Nina DiBenedetto, and Hillary Rogers; juniors Molida Chan, Destiny Marcano, Madison Mousseau, and Lauren Papa; sophomore Tyler Roche; and freshmen Joel Aubin, Jacob Healy, Allison Kane, and Juliana Manchester.

“We’re very proud of our teams, they had a great showing. We’re very proud of our coaches, they really go above and beyond in terms of the activities to help the kids achieve what they’ve achieved today,” said Superintendent Bernard DiLullo.

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