By DANIEL FRANCHETTI
After last year’s virtual competition, the annual Rhode Island Academic Decathlon assembled Sunday in-person in a demonstration of “resilient brain power,” …
By DANIEL FRANCHETTI
After last year’s virtual competition, the annual Rhode Island Academic Decathlon assembled Sunday in-person in a demonstration of “resilient brain power,” and for the first time in 39 years, the event was hosted at Bryant University’s Innovation Center rather than CCRI. With the new venue came the champion: East Greenwich High School that ended an 11-year long championship held by Bishop Hendricken High School. East Greenwich alongside Johnston High School, which came in second place, are both proceeding to the national virtual competition in April. In third place was Cranston West, followed by Pilgrim. Bishop Hendricken placed fifth and Toll Gate sixth.
The Academic Decathlon is a scholarly competition of ten subjects. Each year, twelve high schools from across Rhode Island compete in teams of nine students to determine the top two teams which will proceed onto the national competition. This is determined with multiple-choice tests which includes a speaking portion to assess the general fluency of the participants. The speeches this year were presented traditionally in front of a panel of judges, but the tests were distributed online rather than being presented on paper. Every year, a new theme is chosen with the previous theme being based around the Cold War. This year’s theme was simply “Water: The Essential Resource” with the information covering as far as water’s influence in economics, art, and music.
With a water theme, it was only appropriate that the weather was wet and dreary as the competitors prepared for their first tests. Students filed from the round, central meeting forum of the Innovation Center into classrooms as well as the conference rooms adjacent to the central forum. The forum had a clear view of two floors of conference rooms with glass walls which allowed the coaches, “to see the kids in action,” while presenting their speeches to the judges. The students were confidently focused on their speeches to take notice of this novel situation, but it provided the coaches with a deep sense of pride. It was not just the interiors of the new venue that were praised but the sprawling view of the outside from the main corridor that encircles the central forum and allowed for simple and streamlined movements that kept the day on schedule. The only complaint about the stunning new venue was that some of the catering was sub-par.
Among the new faces at the competition was Classical High School coach Bryan Cerullo. Not only was he new to the Academic Decathlon, but he is a new history teacher at Classical High School. He volunteered for the role of coach head-on to better integrate himself in his school’s community. His small team has the distinction of being composed primarily of freshmen which is uncommon as most teams are comprised of upper classmen. While his team may not have won the competition, Bryan believes this year was a valuable learning experience for him and his students. He is looking forward to next year.
East Greenwich High School has consistently been in the top three, but this year they achieved first place since 2010. Their team consists of eight members: Emmett Bassen Alexander, Guy Sanchez, Julia Xu, Zalmay Ahmad, Raj Vishnu, KC Bisetti, Cooper Jones, and Mia Pinkes. Each one of them received at least one medal, half of them had over five medals, and the team had medals in every subject test. One particularly honorable member of the team is Mia Pinkes who obtained ranked in the top three in nine out of ten events which gave way for another medal for the highest overall score for an individual participant. Upon leaving the event she was heard to joke “I think Mr. Lenox was surprised because I got a C in his class last year.” Ben Revkin, the coach, had this to say about their promotion to the national competition, “the national competition is both exciting and ominous. It is harder to get students to continue to review material for another test, but they will enjoy competing with even more students from across the country.” With their victory, they secure their position in the national competition that will be held in April.
Johnston High School has always performed well in the decathlon. Among the students on their team were Briana and Sam Dominique, two juniors competing for the first time. They had a rough start as they had forgotten their laptops and calculators for the math competition and had a difficult topic for their assigned speech. However, they were confident in their performance and optimistic about the team’s overall performance. “Third...at least” they said cautiously when asked in what place they believed their team would finish. Their expectations were slightly off, but all for the better as the team secured a victory in second place which qualified them for the national competition that will be held in April.
Cranston High School West had a strong showing and took third place in the competition. Social studies teacher Christine Luther-Morris has served as the team’s coach for 15 years and was proud of her team for their hard work this year. Since September, her students have held practices twice a week for an hour each.
"They [students] were surprised," said Luther-Morris. "When they [judges] started calling the top ten and got to eight and seven and they [students] weren't mentioned, they thought we were number eleven. I knew a little bit better having done this before started getting excited when they hit number five."
Although having spent many years of the competition at CCRI, Luther-Morris welcomed the new venue for its expansive view and aesthetics. She mentioned how COVID-19 has affected not just her own team but all the teams in the league. Besides limiting how the competition was conducted and restricted team practices, the way grading changed during the pandemic have altered how the team’s members could be composed. Each school’s team cannot contain more than three members of a certain academic grade and thus some of the alternate grading during the pandemic has changed the team’s composure.
Luther-Morris said that after this year, all but one of their current members will be graduating. As for what Luther-Morris looks for in potential team members, there are several components.
"It's the feeling I get about a student and how they'll fit with the rest of the group as well as looking at strengths and seeing what we are lacking," Luther-Morris said.
This year's team consisted of Daniel Meyerson (captain), Emily Sullivan (captain), Ani Poghosyan, Grace Venagro, Sophia Smith, Andrew Garcia, Serena Leung, Christopher Wassmer, Sanjana Ananthula, Angela Marses and Nicholas Perrotta.
With the conclusion of the state competition, the national competition looms on the horizon. Each year, the national competition is traditionally held in a new location across the country in April. This year the competition will be performed online, like last year’s competition. Students will take their tests and perform their speeches in front of their computers instead of in-person like the state competition.
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