Academic Decathlon: State Competitors


The Academic Decathlon team recently made their appearance at their State Meet.

Audrey Byrne, Editor

For the past 6 years, the Lake Ridge Academic Decathlon team has made a name for itself by consistently returning to the Texas State Academic Decathlon Championship Tournament as fierce competitors rising through district and regional competitions. From a national standpoint, Texas has been known to rank amongst the top states in the country for high school Academic Decathlon tournaments, having 11 national titles in the past 25 years of competing,  making it one of the most challenging states for teams to compete in. Despite the chances of success being so slim, Lake Ridge has managed to surpass these challenges battling against the odds and rising up to compete against the most elite and experienced teams from across the state. 

Each year undoubtedly has its own unique challenges and victories making no group of students or year the same, but for everyone competing in AcaDec, there are those few constants that allow past and present teams to connect and reminisce making AcaDec a memorable experience regardless of generational differences.  While Lake Ridge was still able to partake in the typical experiences of AcaDec such as the constant labor of studying, the strain of testing, and the typical qualms of competing, they were thrown into a situation like no other that set this year apart from every single tournament season in the past. With the pandemic continuing to be a constant presence in everyone’s lives and requiring rigorous and drastic adjustments for public safety, the Lake Ridge AcaDec team has had to learn to work around these changes and develop new strategies for learning and competing. This includes implementing new types of software for competitors and judges to use during the competition to keep everything running as normal as possible. Brandon Austin, social studies teacher and coach of the Lake Ridge AcaDec team, expresses how this team used their uniquely high intellect to adapt to the precarious situations they faced this year during regionals.

“This is our sixth year in a row going to state and as far as I can tell, this team is better than maybe any of the ones that came before them. This year they had to go through a lot, especially at regionals because of some technological issues, but they handled it extremely well. At regionals the program they used for all the tests ended up malfunctioning so some of the kids got locked out of the program, some the kids couldn’t even get into the program, and it even cut kids out in the middle of the test. So after two days and about 20 hours of testing, they called it saying that state scores were now going to count as both regional scores and the state scores and that they would go ahead and advance everyone to state. So that was strange for sure, but during the process no student made excuses and they all fought through it like champs,” stated Austin.

These struggles were difficult to overcome and caused an immense amount of stress to fall upon every team member and left many worried about what condition this would leave them in as they prepared for state. Now, it’s easy for the team to look back at what happened lightly. During regionals, everything that could have gone wrong seemed to have gone wrong but they made it out of the other end with brand new experiences they would use to motivate themselves at state, competing against their peers with more vigor and drive than ever before. Lake Ridge senior and AcaDec participant Laura Yon describes the sense of relief and accomplishment she felt the whole time at state.

Considering the number of technical difficulties and overall uncertainty our team experienced at the regional tournament, I’m really proud of how smoothly state went and how well my team performed. Leaving the library at the end of the day I just remember feeling so proud of my teammates and how far we came in such a crazy year. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to my time in AcaDec,” stated Yon.

As soon as the award ceremony commenced that evening and results had finally been released to the public, the team and their sponsors knew that all of their efforts had not been in vain and they ended up succeeding beyond expectations. Despite having their regional and state scores being combined due to the unforeseen technological difficulties from the region and facing some score deficits as a result, the team had managed to rank 27 overall and secured 3 state medals, a feat Austin described as being a positive life-altering accomplishment for an AcaDec student. Senior, Mark Smith, was completely floored by the team’s success. Smith received many congratulations for his outstanding performance and continues to be both proud and grateful for the experience. 

“I feel great and I am very happy with my three state medals. After we had left the library, I felt pretty good about my scores, but I figured I probably got 1 or 2 medals. But then, I was overjoyed when I found out that I got not two but three medals, including first place in economics. It’s truly an incredible feeling to know that you’re the number one person in the entire state of Texas on a subject. I received many congratulations from my friends and many of my teachers, so it feels nice to be recognized for all the hard work I put in. I’m also glad that my teammates feel very satisfied with their performances. Most importantly, I’m happy that we made Mr. Austin and Mr. Counts proud by beating all of the Mansfield schools, including our Summit rivals,” stated Mark.

As Smith said, he and the team made both their sponsors extremely proud. Austin’s biggest goal going forth into state had been for one of his students to secure a state tournament medal regardless of subject or placing. He described winning a state medal as a lifelong token of success that the student will be able to look back on with the pride that they made it that far academically. 

“I was telling them just before the competition, ‘You know, this is the last time any of you will ever participate in AcaDec.’ I’ve had these 70 kids in my room with me for three years now. For many of them, it’s an end of any era, so you don’t want to go out on a bad note, you want to go out knowing that not just this year’s work, but all the work you’ve done, has been for a reason and was worth it, and these kids, they did just that. I was very very proud of them. I cannot believe the effort and desire to win they put forth in such an uncertain time I am beyond proud! Mark won what I like to call a forever medal.  Those are the things that decades later people still remember. Everyone you meet will eventually hear about and still marvel at even as old people. So getting one state medal is a great accomplishment in any year, so getting three was about as awesome a feeling as Acadec can give you,” stated Austin.

These accomplishments left the entire team and Austin in a euphoric state of pride, but even with these accomplishments under their belt, they have not forgotten the mental and physical struggles they had to endure throughout the whole year and especially at state. The Academic Decathlon is a battle of the brains between students from all over the student who has been chosen to be a part of their teams because of their certain intellectual skills. It takes a special kind of student to be able to endure the copious amount of material they need to study, the pressure of writing and public speaking, and the physically draining process of taking 8 complex tests paced gruesomely for the amount of content they contain. Lake Ridge senior and state AcaDec participant, Demetrius Carpenter describes the difficult process of competing and its side effects. 

“In AcaDec we are basically required to take 7 unique tests over a designated topic for that year including a super quiz consisting of random questions on each topic. This year the topic was the Cold War and so we had to study the Cold War in huge depth in order to be tested on the different sections which include math, economics, art, music, science, social science, and literature. Out of those,  science was probably the most difficult test for the State competition. Most of the questions were about the planets and galaxies and one of the parts of the science resource guide, which we got information from for the question, was basically an intense fact dump that made you question your mental state after just 3 pages. The math section was also quite difficult because, I’m assuming from lack of sleep or staring at a monitor for three hours straight, during the math test I began to see three of my keyboards and I could not focus my vision,” stated Carpenter.

For students like Carpenter, testing takes a lot of physical effort and a strong will to make it through them. Yon also faced similar side effects from testing for so long but was able to make it through to the end with the help of her teammates and her own testing strategies.

Test fatigue was definitely the hardest part of state. Having to keep your brain on and entirely focused while keeping nerves at bay from eight in the morning until the afternoon was definitely hard work, especially towards the final events like social science. Taking frequent snack and water breaks and joking around with my team helped reduce the stress and kept me going for sure. I don’t think I would have stayed sane taking all those tests without lunchtime jokes from Mr. Austin,” stated Yon. 

Being on the AcaDec team takes a lot of strong will and determination, especially if one desires to succeed to the levels of students like Smith, Yon, and Carpenter. They each worked tirelessly to become the true scholars they are and to achieve such high levels of academic success and each of them is now thrilled to finally have their chance at rest. For some, the remainder of the school year in AcaDec will be used as a place to rest away from other classes and do more regular school work, and for others, it will become their study period for their other upcoming academic competitions such as UIL social studies. But regardless of how the rest of the year may turn out for each student, they each value their time competing in the Texas Academic Decathlon and are eternally grateful for the memories and relationships they were able to create in AcaDec. After having competed in AcaDec for two years, Smith feels fond of his experiences and believes that the program and his team have shaped him to become a better person and student. After this year he’s happy to have gone through AcaDec with such a strong and close-knit team that has left him deeply proud. 

One unique feature about this team was that we all knew each other pretty well prior to AcaDec. Consequently, we were already comfortable around each other, so we were able to easily give each other helpful feedback on our speeches and interviews. Our pre-existing friendships also allowed us to motivate each other to do better with each successive competition. I pushed my friends, Demetrius Carpenter and Logan Gajkowski, to study harder and improve after every competition. In the end, they ended up getting 5th overall in scholastic and varsity divisions respectively. I’m very proud of them and I’m glad their hard work and intelligence are also being recognized,” stated Smith.

After such a long year, the Lake Ridge Academic Decathlon team finally deserves a rest after the grueling hours of studying and competing they have pushed themselves through. Competing in such a large state has its challenges making the team’s accomplishments that much more of an impressive feat. Austin and the rest of the team hope that the momentum of success the team has been building and building over the past six years will continue to grow and flourish into the future, bringing great scores and great memories and that Lake Ridge will continue to support them in achieving these goals.