3 high schools qualify for state decathlon contests

Three Odessa high schools have qualified for upcoming Academic Decathlon competitions.

The state meet is Feb. 25-26 in San Antonio and there is a secondary meet in Frisco on the same dates for scholarships and state rankings, Director of Advanced Academic Services Kristen Vesely said.

Nationals will be April 21-23 in Frisco.

New Tech Odessa was first in the state in their classification. Vesely said they are going to be the No. 1 seed in San Antonio and could qualify for nationals in April.

Permian High School and Odessa Collegiate Academy are going to the gathering in Frisco.

“Three of the four teams made it to one of the state competitions, which is super exciting,” Vesely said.

Vesely said this is the first year Ector County ISD has ever had three teams progress. This is the first time New Tech will go as a No. 1 seed, but they have been to state twice before.

New Tech decathlon coach Damian Gaytan said his team has done great so far.

“They placed first at their regional competition. It’s the first time our team has placed that high at regionals. It was very exciting,” Gaytan said.

“I think our team will do great at the state competition. There’s a lot of great teams attending, but all our team can do is try their best. No matter what the outcome is, we are very proud of them,” he added.

Mikal Crowder, decathlon coach for Odessa Collegiate Academy, said this is a great moment for the students on his team.

“… All the teams in ECISD have been tough competition for us this year and have prepared us for the meet ahead. Sending three teams to state is a great accomplishment for ECISD,” Crowder said in an email. “We’re thrilled to have advanced this far and I’m sure our students will give their best effort when the time comes. Our team has been competitive all year and getting better each month. We each have one more meet, anything can happen.”

PHS decathlon coach Eric Garcia said his students also worked incredibly hard all year and have met a goal by qualifying for the 2021-22 state tournament.

“As the students have advanced through preliminary competitions, their motivation has increased after each competition placing second in the regional tournament. The overall goal is to provide a new experience to a team that has overcome adversity and strives for success next week. I am exceptionally proud of the students and coaches that helped with the program and the achievements that we have made throughout the year,” Garcia said in an email.

The competition gets harder as they move through.

“Last year due to COVID, they ran into some difficulties with the regional meet and basically they just were like, okay, we’re going to pretend like that never happened. So every team in the state went to state. We don’t consider that. We don’t count that because that was by default, so this is on merit. This is the first time we’ve had three teams go. It’s incredible,” Vesely said.

She added that she thinks the teams will do well. Every meet that NTO has competed in they have progressively gotten better, Vesely said.

She noted that the decathlon teams don’t stop.

“They’re a year-round program. They start their season May 1st, and their season begins with getting their curriculum. … What happens is USAD, which is United States Academic Decathlon, they pick a topic, and then they go to the experts in the field of that topic. They write basically five to seven chapters … of college-level text about that topic. These are developed over the course of several years. This year the topic was water,” Vesely said.

The seven topics range from language and literature to art history and social studies and science to math. But there are 10 events such as an essay, speech and a seven-minute interview.

For the essay, they are given 50 minute to pick one of three topics, brainstorm, compose and craft a multiple-page, multiple paragraph essay. Vesely said they are scored based on their content (80 percent) and 20 percent is how well they write, how many spelling errors and how many grammatical errors they had.

On the speech portion, students prepare on any topic and give a four-minute extemporaneous speech. They are scored on clarity, organization and how well they present. That’s about 70 percent of their score, Vesely said.

The other 30 percent comes from impromptu. Students are given three possible topics; they pick the one they like best and are given one minute to prepare, to outline, and then they have to speak for two minutes about the topic.

The interview is where students sit down with a panel of judges who interview them for seven minutes. Students are judged on how well they sit and speak, the clarity of their answers, how well they stay on topic and how well they answered the question being asked.

There are 10 total events because it’s a decathlon.

Vesely said there can be 12 competitors on a team.

“You have three that actually compete and an alternate. Most of the teams have more than that in the class, or in the organization … because they’ve got people competing for those four spots … So, for example, like at Permian, usually they have about 24 in the class and they’re competing for those 12 spots to play. Because we’re coming off of COVID, the teams are a little bit smaller than they normally run. But there’s also a JV team that they play. That’s octathlon. It’s everything that decathlon does, minus the speech and interview. They’ve got the same 12, but they can do two teams have an octagon to play. So there’s 24 kids that can play there. So total, we could have 36 kids from every campus competing,” Vesely said.

They can bring 15 students. She added that they can bring their alternates and observers to competition.

“They won’t take that many because the more kids you take, the easier it is for your competitors to be distracted. For the state, most of the teams are just taking their nine competitors, and maybe an observer or two. They’re taking their underclassmen so they can see what state looks like to kind of help generate the ‘I want to go to state,’” Vesely said.

ECISD has had academic decathlon since the early 2000s.

Vesely is a former academic decathlon coach at Permian.

“We watched the program grow substantially. We were barely keeping six kids in the class and we grew to about 36 kids in the class before I stepped out,” she said.

She added that she couldn’t attribute the growth just to notice on social media.

“I think there’s a lot of word of mouth and if you have a very charismatic coach, and if you have a winning team, and you do lots of advertisement and lots of recruitment, yes. What I like about Decathlon, the original purpose of it was to help support our GT kids, and get them into something that was academic geared, but could still be competitive. So if they’re not athletic, or they’re not fine arts, they still have somewhere to go. And it’s grown beyond just GT, but they do still target their GT kids. It does give a place for our GT folks to play,” Vesely said.

“Anybody who wants to try, they are more than welcome to try,” she added.