Eight Brains Are Better Than One

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Eight Brains Are Better Than One

Stephanie Gomez

Stephanie Gomez

Stephanie Gomez

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It’s a Saturday morning. You’re sitting at a table with two of your competitors from other schools.

With only a pencil in your hand, you wonder if the studying you’ve been doing all month is going to pay off. You’re aware there is nothing you can do about it, but you can’t help but worry if the essay you wrote and speech you delivered the day prior was good enough to put you in the lead. With seven tests in front of you, you know there is nothing left to do but try your best.

This is the emotional and stressful events the participants of Academic Decathlon goes through once a month. Their final competition of the school year was during Spring Break.

For many people, Academic Decathlon doesn’t go any further than what you may see in the movies: people raising their hands to answer a question like a game show. However, it is so much more than that. About once a month, teams of nine people come from all around the area to take seven multiple choice tests to rival their mastery of the subjects. Taking tests is hard enough, but to the decathletes, it is the easiest part of the gig.

The topic for this year was the American 1960s. Meaning, the decathletes read and studied about the history, music, art, economics,and literature of the ’60s. On top of that, they had to learn statistics and science based on light, optics and lasers. The overall subject of what they study changes every year.

Unlike many sports or clubs, Aca. Dec. is nearly year-round. The group gets their topic and materials for the upcoming year in May. As soon as that happens, the preparation for the next year doesn’t wait for summer. They read and study as much as they can during the summer while they don’t have other classes.

After all the work they have to do, it leaves the question: why do they do it?

For senior Sarah Munoz, her response was simple.

“I mean, I’ve made it this far…,” she said.

However, her favorite part of being in the club is the people.

“The people not only encouraged me, but they pushed me farther than I would myself,” Sarah said. “We became really close friends in the process, which I didn’t think would happen.”

She has gotten very close with the team, especially the seniors.

Morton Ranch’s all-star, junior Karen Tseng, is the best decathlete of Morton Ranch. Her scores shine high above everyone else’s, setting an example on what the perfect decathlete is. After experiencing the realm of all things Academic Decathlon, the highlights for her are winning medals and ribbons but also her teammates.

Tseng said, “it is really fun to hang out with the people in there and you never feel like the odd ball out, or that you aren’t needed.”

All decathletes have a reason for why they joined in the first place. Most that join receive an invitation based on SAT scores. Just ask any decathlete when they assure you that you do not need a high GPA to participate. Some that compete have below a 3.0 GPA.

Tseng  said she joined because, “[I] tagged along with my sister in an Aca. Dec. meeting. Her and teacher Mrs. McDaniel encouraged me to join.”

If only they knew when she agreed to participate that she would be the very person the team needed to carry them to State.

Sarah joined Aca. Dec. this year and was interested in the new things she could learn during the year.

“School, in a way, got kinda boring ,and I wanted something that would genuinely interest me and push me further,” Munoz commented. “So I decided, ‘why not join a class that would drive that as

Mrs. McDaniel has been a part of Aca. Dec. since day one at MRHS. When Morton Ranch first opened, it didn’t have an Academic Decathlon program available to its students.

“Almost every day during my conference period, I would talk to one of our Social Studies teachers, Mary Frances Schmidt (now a counselor at Mayde Creek), in the teacher’s workroom,” McDaniel said.  “One day during the second semester she asked me if I wanted to coach Academic Decathlon with her. The nerd and athlete in me got excited just by the name. The Decathlon (track) event is a pretty prestigious competition, so I thought this would be awesome too. I was right.”

Academic Decathlon is definitely not for everyone. Most students who have participated will tell you the hardest part was the studying, but that wasn’t the case for McDaniel. For her, the most difficult part is the goodbyes at the end of the year.

“Because Academic Decathlon can be taken over multiple years, much like an athletic sport, I spend two to three years working with and learning from the students that are in the program,” she stated. “So when the ‘G’ word comes around every year, it is difficult for me to watch them walk across the stage. I feel like the proud parent that doesn’t want to let the chicks fly away from the nest. After spending at least an hour with the people every day and whole days on some weekends, it is hard not to get close and attached to the people involved.

Like many in the club, Mrs. McDaniel loves learning new things, and there was nothing more perfect than Aca. Dec., especially with a brand new topic each year. Over 13 years later, she still loves it. She also likes to observe the chemistry and cohesion within the team build throughout the year. Since the start of Aca. Dec. a little over a decade ago, our school has qualified for State competition nine times.

With the 2018-2019 season over, it causes one to reflect over the past year. Academic Decathlon is very time-consuming due to the need to study and prepare daily. The main idea to examine is whether they got as much as they wanted out of the season as they put in.

For Karen, learning how to study and cram for tests was her main goal. Putting faith in her ability to retain information, she exceeded her expectations in the meets. This year was more comfortable for her.

“This year I felt I knew more of what I was doing, and I knew the people in there better,” Tseng replied. “Overall, I just knew where to go in terms of studying and preparing for meets.”

Many close friendships and fantastic memories were made this year. Going to state in San Antonio during the break did nothing but further prove that. With a couple of months left of school, they get a head start on the upcoming year by starting to read the novel “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley. Academic Decathlon is always working hard, every day of the year.


If you or your student could be a dedicated asset to the program, stop by room 1212 for information.