While the Olympics plays out on the world stage in Sochi, Russia, an Olympics-type event will be held in San Antonio on Feb. 21-22 as well. The event uses mental muscles and in the end, there will be a ceremony with high school students receiving the coveted gold, silver, or bronze medals.
Fifty teams from across the state including Warren High School and Stevens High School will compete in the Texas Academic Decathlon (AcDec), which will be held at the Omni Hotel, San Antonio College, and Brennan High School. With nine members per team, more than 450 students will be competing.
The Academic Decathlon promotes student achievement by providing a format in which high school students compete in various academic areas. In addition to a seven-minute interview, a one-hour essay and two speeches, written comprehensive exams are given in music, art, language/literature, mathematics, economics, (social) science, and the Super Quiz.
The final event is the Super Quiz relay, which is open to the public, will be held in the Brennan High School auditorium on Feb. 22 at 3:30 p.m. The event is like a huge academic pep rally. Endless hours of study will come down to the five questions answered by each team member. Super Quiz questions center around the theme of World War I. Audience members, consisting of family members and team supporters, will witness both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat as each question is answered.
At the regional Academic Decathlon meet held in late January, Warren High School placed first, Stevens High School placed second, and Marshall High School placed third in the Large School division. Warren and Stevens advanced to the state competition.
Warren High School
Warren High School has gone to the state meet eight out of the last nine years including the past four years in a row. That is an impressive record on its own, but exceptional when you realize that the school is only 11 years old.
“The continued success of Warren’s AcDec team stands out as the singular achievement that gives me the greatest satisfaction,” says Terry Zablocki, one of two teacher coaches for the team.
In 2002, Warren High School opened its doors without a senior class, which is the norm for new high schools in NISD. Zablocki, a Communication Applications teacher, says that one student enrolled in the academic decathlon course in its first year, so as she sold parking permits on prep days, she managed to recruit eight other students to join. The Warren Academic Decathlon team was born.
Zablocki’s fellow coach is Mary Lagleder, an Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History teacher, whom she has coached with since 2012.
The pair takes pride in the wide variety of students who have participated in AcDec over the years. The team has grown to a total of 260 students who have participated. Students from all backgrounds, challenging circumstances, and special interests are all welcome and have benefited from Academic Decathlon.
“Our team has gone to state for six of the past seven years and produced six state champions in an event, returned with 23 individual medals and garnered $8.3 million dollars in scholarship offers,” Zablocki added.
Currently, four AcDec graduates are enrolled in medical school, and four are cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
“Decathlon alumni return to assist in interview, impromptu and prepared speech ‘boot camp,’ and to provide encouragement for the current team members,” she said.
Members of the Warren AcDec team are: Kevin Bowie, Mridhul Maddela, Kaylyn Pugh, David De La Paz, Ian Cook, Autumn Sancho, Tatiana Benavides, Phillip Moraniec, and Dylan Creutz. Both Bowie and Maddela competed as juniors at the state meet last year in El Paso, received a gold medal in Interview, and traveled to Yale University for the World Scholar’s cup.
Stevens High School
Despite a high turnover in teacher coaches, the Stevens High School Academic Decathlon has a stellar record. Teams have gone to state the past four years in a row. Their record indicates the strength and talent of the team. Current Head Coach Mark Larson says that when he took over, he noticed that the students were already well trained and that they had a leadership structure set up among themselves, so he allowed the co-captains to take over the leadership of the team alongside the coaches.
“Once the regional competition got closer, the students started matching strengths and identifying weaknesses and began tutoring each other,” he said.
As their leadership abilities were honed, students began taking on the role of teaching various subjects that they had an interest in. Joshua Ratta became the “professor” of Social Sciences both in the classroom on Wednesdays and at a teammate’s house on Saturdays. Allie Skinkle requested to teach the Sciences, and set up a presentation and activities to help students learn the content. Kiana Burciaga became the student in charge of music, and arranged for the school’s band director to help them with music theory. Maricio Garcia and Jesus Garza became the math tutors.
“I have nothing but high praise for how the team works together with a mutual respect for each other,” Larson said. “The team took ownership, organized their time – in and outside the class – and got it done. They are successful because they knew what needed to be done and did it.”
Larson’s fellow teacher coaches are Diana Pina and Mike Lyons.
Members of the Stevens AcDec team are: Sydney Harris, Jesus Garza, Allison Skinkle, Xandria Quichoco, Joshua Ratta, Raymond Borrego, Jazmine Caicedo, Kiana Burciaga, and Mauricio Garcia.
Bringing home the gold
After the competition, two awards ceremonies will be held on Sunday, Feb. 23 at the Omni Hotel. An Awards Breakfast for Small/Medium Schools will be held at 7:45 a.m.; and the Awards Luncheon for Large Schools (such as Stevens and Warren high schools) will begin at 10:30 a.m.