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Bandera team excels at Decathlon competition

By Bev Barr BCC Editor

Pictured in the front row, from left to right are the Academic Decathlon team members and their awards: Hannah Bates; Maddie Brzezinaki (scholastic competitor) 1st place essay with a perfect score of 1000, 2nd place math, 3rd place speech and overall scholastic, 4th place interview, music, language and literature, 5th place in art; Landon Wyatt; Taylor Martin (scholastic competitor) 1st place economics, 2nd place essay, speech and science, 3rd place math and music, 4th place overall scholastic, 5th place social science, Ashley Abitz (varsity competitor) 1st place essay, 2nd place art and music, 3rd place interview, science and economics, 4th place speech and overall varsity, 5th place social science; Blake Kromer (honors competitor) 1st place honors overall and interview, 2nd place science, math, music and economics, 3rd place art, 4th place speech and social science; and Christopher Reyes (scholastic competitor) 2nd place language arts and literature, 4th place economics, 5th place math.
Pictured from left to right back in the back row are coach Dan Zavorka; Alia Henderson (honors competitor) 5th place language arts and literature; Zackery Nordquist (varsity competitor) 1st place music, 2nd place social science and tied for 2nd place in economics, 3rd place speech, art, math, overall varsity, 4th place in language arts and literature, tied for 5th place essay; holding the trophy - David Guzman (scholastic competitor) 1st place speech and music, 2nd place art, economics and overall scholastic, 3rd place social science, 4th place essay, science and math; Lane Hadley (varsity competitor) tied for 1st place language arts and literature, 2nd place overall varsity and tied for 2nd place in economics and speech, tied for 3rd place music, 4th place art, science and math; Matthew Houser (varsity competitor) 1st place overall varsity, interview, art, social science, math, economics and tied for 1st place in science, language arts and literature, tied for 2nd place speech, tied for 3rd place music, and tied for 5th place essay; and Carma Cloudt (honors competitor) 3rd place math, 4th place art and music.

The Bandera Academic Decathlon team earned 1st place overall and 1st place in a “super quiz” at the Round 1 competition at Holmes High School on Dec. 8 and 9. The team competed against other 5A schools in the small and medium division, including KIPP, Kennedy, International Leadership Academy, Randolph, A.C. Jones, Harlan, King, Fox Tech, Veteran’s Memorial, Alice, C.C. Carrol, Memorial, and Tuloso-Midway. Tuloso-Midway received third place, and Alice received second place. The Bandera team is ranked at 52 nationally, as a result of round 1. Hundreds of teams are ranked and hundreds more are not ranked because either they do not want to show their scores or that did not make the minimum cut to be considered for national ranking.
Decathlon is a thematic national event, where students from all 50 states and even from other countries compete for honors of having learned the most about the theme of the year.
This year the theme is Africa, which includes mastering knowledge about all 54 countries in the continent, learning about its history and geography, the continent's many cultural aspects, including art, music and literature, as well as the religions of its people.
The competition process includes a non-public set of events and a public event. The non-public competition allows the students to be judged on speech, interview, essay, math, science, literature, art, music, economics and social sciences. This year, for example, the science component is about infectious diseases of Africa, so students needed to learn about malaria, Ebola, HIV, tuberculosis, and other diseases of the region. The students must be knowledgeable about the causes and treatments of these diseases.
Bandera students had the very good fortune to learn directly from Dr. Sims, a doctor who had first-hand experience working in Africa during an Ebola outbreak.
A second part of the competition, known as the “super quiz,” takes place befor an audience. Students compete head to head with other students from other school districts.
“We had a very interesting competition at this last weekend's event, as our team and Klein (6A) tied for first place,” Dan Zavorka, academic coach for the team said. “It had turned out to be essentially a competition between the two, as the 20-plus other teams were nowhere close to catching either of our teams.”
The academic decathlon team is comprised of students from 9th through 12th grades. The competitors are classified as varsity, scholastic or honors competitors. Varsity students are those with a grade point average of 2.99 or lower. Scholastic students represent the typical “B” student, with grade point averages falling between 3.00 and 3.74. The Honors classification is reserved for students with grade point averages between 3.74 and 4.0. Oftentimes, at large schools, these are the national merit scholars.
“This is the only competition in which poor-performing academic students must be part of the team,” Zavorka said. “Usually, after being on the team, the students will improve their grades as they learn how to study seriously.
“Three years ago when we won third in state, most of the team members were sophomores. Then, many of the students continued so that most of them were juniors last year when we earned the title of state champion. This year, we have three new members and six veterans. Next year, most likely the three newbies will stay and we will be needing at least six additional team members.”
In addition to having a class for the team, the students meet at least two times a week after school for more study time — and of course, they study on their own as well. They also take a lot of practice tests, as many as 20 prior to round 1.
“If I had my way we would have taken about 50 [practice tests], but I don't want to burn anyone out,” Zavorka said.
“This is one of the best programs in the world for students,” Zavorka said. “Poor-performing students tend to improve in school and get accepted by colleges that otherwise might never have accepted them. Merit scholarships for college seem to be positively impacted by students who have been successful in decathlon, and I would say that students in the decathlon program are more likely to complete their post-high school education than individuals who did not attempt decathlon.”