Students compete for $150,750 in scholarships.
By Alison Graef
After studying decathlon materials on World War II all year, teams of students from 40 large Texas high schools were tested at the Omni San Antonio Hotel on their knowledge of science, literature, art, music, social science, economics and math Feb. 24-25. This campus hosted the interviews, speeches and Super Quiz finale.
Because Texas has so many schools, they are classified according to UIL guidelines as small (4A and smaller), medium (5A) and large (6A), and each school competes only with other comparably sized schools. Medium and small high school teams were tested at Coronado High School in El Paso.
Each competing team consists of three honors, three scholastic and three varsity students. Students are classified as honor, scholastic and varsity based on their GPAs. Honor is 3.75-4.00, scholastic is 3.00-3.74 and varsity is 0.00-2.99.
Students study materials provided by the decathlon throughout the school year in preparation for the competition’s written tests, essay, interview and speech. For the final event, students compete on stage as a team at the Super Quiz.
Scholarships are awarded at state-level only and in equal amounts to the small, medium and large school competition winners. Each team member of the first-, second- and third-place teams receives a scholarship of $1,200, $800 and $500 respectively. Individual winners from honor, scholastic and varsity levels are awarded scholarships from first place ($3,500) down to fifth place ($750). A total of $150,750 is awarded. Funding is provided by the Texas Education Agency and through an annual $1,100 decathlon membership fee paid by the high schools.
“They deserve it,” said Rick Hopkins, executive director of the Texas Academic Decathlon. “They give up their life. They really do, because these kids work their tails off for this.”
Hopkins said the Super Quiz is for fun and does not count toward the final scores. In the final event, students get to relax and have fun competing on stage in front of family, friends and school faculty.
Hopkins said the varsity students benefit most from their experience because they learn good study habits and have something to compete for. Most C students are simply not challenged or motivated in school, Hopkins said, and the decathlon gives them something to work hard for.
“What happens with the decathlon is that it brings them into an organized study environment and invariably, the next year, they will be competing in the B (scholastic) division,” Hopkins said. “Not everybody is an ‘athlete,’ and it is the students who are not ‘athletes’ who need to be involved in an activity.”
Katherine Falcon, decathlon participant and senior at Oliver Wendell Holmes High School, found out about the decathlon from a friend who had participated the previous year. The friend told her it is a lot of studying but a lot of fun as well. As a senior, Falcon said she wishes she heard about the decathlon earlier.
“If I had known I would have jumped in sooner,” Falcon said.
Falcon said she not only gained new friends, but also learned better study habits.
“They taught me new methods of study,” Falcon said. “I used to do it all at once, but that’s not how they do it. You study sections and soak in the information.”
She said the team environment allowed students to help each other in their weak areas.
“I have a weakness and I’ll find someone with that strength, and we’ll study together,” Falcon said.
Studying and testing over 25-30 pages of decathlon materials every day took dedication, but Falcon said she adjusted to the workload.
“In the beginning it’s hard, but it gets easier once you get in the habit of it,” Falcon said.
Hannah Tillinger, decathlon participant and sophomore at Clear Springs High School, said her English teacher convinced her to participate in this year’s decathlon. She said above all else she enjoyed the camaraderie with her teammates.
“I love them, they are amazing,” Tillinger said. “I’ve made a lot of new friends.”
Tillinger already had a good study system of reading, studying flashcards, outlining and note taking in place when she joined the team.
“I pretty much had a good system of studying going into this and I stuck with it and it worked,” Tillinger said.
Despite good study skills, the workload of preparing for competition was a lot, she said.
“I probably studied two to three hours per day leading up to this competition,” Tillinger said.
Tillinger said she intends to participate in the decathlon again next year.
“I’m doing it again, definitely,” Tillinger said. “I have become emotionally attached, so I am definitely doing it again next year.”