“That’s kind of a prerequisite for decathlon,” sponsor Lisa Beck said about their zeal to learn. “You don’t delve through a thousand pages of college-level material in your free time if you don’t like it.”
To be clear, the four-inch binder full of material isn’t just to fill the after-school hours. “Decathletes,” as they call themselves, spend most of the year poring over facts, memorizing digital flash cards and giving speeches to prepare themselves for a two-day state-level competition just like other sports teams.
Fortunately, for the past four years the “fun” has certainly paid off. They’ve won every year, including this year’s event held Feb. 24-25 at Berkmar High School in Gwinnett County, Ga., beating out 21 other teams. LFO’s team scored the highest points overall in Divisions I and II, earning the Howard Stroud Championship trophy.
This year’s theme was “The Age of Imperialism: The Making of a European Global Order.” During the competition, students tested in seven content areas: economics, art, language and literature, mathematics, science, music and “Written Super Quiz.” In addition, students earned points individually in three communication events: public speaking, personal interview and written essay.
Winning state also paved the way for them to compete at the 31st annual U.S. Academic Nationals Competition, which will be held April 25–28, in Albuquerque, N.M. The team placed fourth in its division last year. Ashley Campbell, first-place winner in the Honors division and highest scoring participant in the state, said there was more to nationals than just trying to win.
“Because you’re at nationals, everyone who is there is a serious team and they love learning,” Campbell said. “But it’s a week long as compared to a few days, so there’s more time where you’re sitting around or walking around and you get to meet the other teams. We study all the same material, so you get a sense of community with people because you can talk about the same things even though they live in Alaska and you might live in Georgia.”
Team mate Hannah Goff, also a senior, agreed with Campbell.
“And it might not just be talking about decathlon things,” Goff explained. “Because you’re a group of people who love to learn, there might be things outside the decathlon that you both like to talk about. You make new friends. It’s more friendly and there’s more camaraderie. You’re competing against each other, but it doesn’t really feel like you’re in competition. Everyone wants to do well and see other teams do well too.”
Beck said the supportive atmosphere is just as positive at home as it is at competitions. She said she’s been pleasantly surprised at the lack of “cliques” at LFO and the amount of support the student body gives to the team.
“A lot of kids think, ‘I’m not smart enough or good enough for decathlon,’” Beck said. “There are a lot of misnomers about it in general. Decathlon is unique in that the creators of it wanted to provide a competition where students who were traditionally underachieving could also compete. We have the Honors group, who make A’s, the Scholastic group, who make B’s and the Varsity group, who make C’s, so it’s very diverse.”
Goff and the other members agreed the perception can be deceiving.
“People think debate is about how smart you are,” Goff said. “It’s not about how smart you are. It’s about how much effort you want to put into it and how much you want to learn the material.”
Seth Bone, a junior, who won third overall on the Varsity level at state, said Decathlon met his expectations in some ways, but like many others he also had some preconceived ideas about it.
“I knew it was going to be a lot of work, and it fulfilled that,” Bone said, “but I thought it was more of an academic decathlon or academic sport, like being in front of a stage with the buzzers and everything. It was nothing like that. I really enjoy it.”