Park City High School Academic Decathlon Team takes state
March 22, 2011
For the ninth consecutive year, the Park City High School Academic Decathlon Team has earned the state title and is now preparing for the national competition, which is scheduled for late April. "It was exciting," Park City High School English teacher and team co-coach Ed Potts said. "In the years past, we haven’t had as much competition as we did this year."
Nine Park City High School students competed in 10 academic events each at the two-day competition, held at Dixie State College in St. George. Park City’s team narrowly defeated Bingham High School to secure entry in Nationals, Potts said. Bingham’s team came closer to defeating Park City than any team has in a number of years, Potts added.
English teacher and co-coach Matt Nagel said a sense of tradition combined with the excitement of high-performing students has led to a consistently strong team throughout the last two decades.
"There’s no reason the student body of Bingham, Alta and some of these other big schools couldn’t field a nine-person team that could beat us," Nagel said. Bingham High School is the only school to have beaten Park City’s Academic Decathlon Team in the last 19 years.
"We’ve just made it a priority," Nagel said. "There is some prestige within the school of kids that want to do it."
Potts and Nagel began coaching the team five years ago. Each year, the two assemble the team soon after school school resumes in August, Potts said. The first, district-wide competition was in October, so students only had a few months to prepare for it, he added.
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Each year, the categories are focused around a central theme, Potts said. The theme this year was the Great Depression and students were given packets of information, 100-page booklets for each topic, from which to study. They also read the "Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck, which outlines many of the social, economic and other impacts resulting from the Depression.
Team-members began the state-wide competition Thursday, March 10, by participating in two oral categories, speech and interview. Students received points for prepared-and-impromptu speeches that they presented to a panel of judges. They also participated in realistic, job-like mock interviews where their resumes and interview skills were put to the test, Potts said.
The second day consisted of six multiple-choice knowledge tests that spanned from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to Potts. The categories were based on Depression-era music, art, math, economics, social sciences or history and language and literature. The geology of the era was addressed in the Superquiz, an oral exam covering the topic of science. Each student also wrote an essay.
Teams are split into three-person groups according to grade-point average in order to represent a diverse student-body, Potts said. Students with a 3.75 GPA or higher compete in the Honors demographic. Those with a GPA between 3.0-3.75 compete in the Scholastic division, while the team members with a GPA less than 3.0 compete in the Varsity category.
The highest a student can earn in any one category is 1,000 points, Potts said, and Park City junior Jennika Pasinsky earned a perfect score for her speech. Judges based scores on content, enthusiasm, eye contact and speech quality, Pasinsky said.
Pasinsky also placed in the top three students of her demographic in each category from among schools similar in size to Park City High School. Only two students in the state earned such an honor, Potts said.
Park City senior Roman Amici finished the state competition with the highest number of individual points, scoring 8,059 out of a possible 10,000. Senior Max Thomas placed third overall with only 30 points fewer than Amici.
"It’s probably the closest competition in Utah Academic Decathlon for those top spots," Thomas said. "Out of 8,000 points, a difference of 30 was a question or two."
Potts said the team is now gearing up for Nationals, scheduled to take place in North Caroline April 27-30. With a number of top-ten placements through the last few years, the team is sizing up their competition, according to Potts.
"We know the teams that are typically up at the top to go after," he said. "We’ve looked at their speech scores and they are right-even with us, so this year it seems like it’s going to be almost like it was in our state a dog fight to see who’s going to be the national champs."
Park City High School is one of only three or four public schools in the country that consistently qualifies to compete in Nationals, according to Thomas.