The crowd was hushed. The tension was high. The competitors only had several seconds to make their play. And them, the crowd erupted with applause and cheers. So was the scene at the Academic Decathlon’s Super Quiz Sunday afternoon. This portion of the competition yielded a variety of reactions from the crowd gathered in the theater at CCRI. In front of their parents and peers, student competitors had several seconds to answer multiple-choice questions likes, “The role of Tatya Tope in the 1857 Rebellion was as?”
With the stakes at their highest, correct answers prompted cries of joy, and incorrect guesses earned dejected silence from the crowd.
An hour later most of the students at the 29th Rhode Island Academic Decathlon wore smiles of success on their faces. After the Super Quiz and a brief recess at which students ate pizza and danced to Lady Gaga hits, the 17 teams reconvened to accept their awards.
Dozens of bronze, silver and gold medals were handed out to students from various institutions, but there could only be one overall winner. Which team would take home the 4-foot trophy that sat on the awards table?
The top three teams gathered on the stage to find out if it would be East Greenwich, Johnston or Bishop Hendricken High School. Once East Greenwich was congratulated as the third place winner, the audience held its collective breath.
And then, second place was awarded to Johnston.
The small but mighty group of Hendricken supporters burst into applause, and the team of boys proudly accepted their trophies as their many medals clanked on their necks.
But the Hendricken team didn’t just win by luck, they, like many of their competitors, spent every week since September preparing for Sunday’s day-long competition.
The team, all seniors except for one junior, spent every Thursday and Friday afternoon poring over review materials, practicing their interview skills and writing essays.
Their coach is Sister Carol Anne Murray, a chemistry teacher at the school who has been coaching the decathlon team for 22 years.
“I tell them I own them on Thursdays and Fridays,” said Murray with a smile.
Murray said ensuring the team takes their own notes and form their own questions is a major component of her coaching technique. The result, she said, is a concerted effort by the team to improve upon themselves and one another. She also mixes the three levels of competitors, varsity, scholastic and honors (which are based on students’ grade point averages), together.
“The top kids bring the other ones up,” she said.
Murray said she has had most of her team members in the classroom.
“I recruit from the kids I teach,” she said.
The members of the academic decathlon team at Hendricken know how seriously Murray takes her job as their coach.
G. Thomas Esmay, a senior, said knowing everyone watching during the Super Quiz was “incredibly stressful.” Anthony Abel, also a senior, added that Murray’s presence upped the stakes.
“Our coach is very strict,” he said.
The boys’ desire to make Murray proud is evident.
Over the years, Murray said the basics of coaching and competing have remained the same, with new faces and personalities circulating throughout.
“I am going to miss this team very much though,” she said. “They’ve been the nicest and the brightest.”
Hendricken took home the following honors: Ryan Sutyla won gold in math, bronze in interview, gold in economics, gold in music, gold in science, silver in art and gold in overall top scores. Shane McElroy won silver in music, silver in language and literature, bronze in science and bronze in art. Garabed Koosherian won bronze in speech, gold in language and literature, bronze in art and silver in overall top scores. Dax Tucker won gold in speech and bronze in art. He was also asked to present his speech about baseball during the awards ceremony. G. Thomas Esmay won silver in math, bronze in overall super quiz, silver in essay, silver in language and literature and a bronze in overall top scores. Anthony Abel won silver in math, gold in interview, gold in essay, bronze in language and literature and a gold in overall top scores. Thomas Roy won bronze in math, silver in music, bronze in science, gold in art and a gold in overall top scores. Evan LeComte won bronze in music.
Although Hendricken came out on top, other Warwick teams made their presence known.
Toll Gate’s Tyler Lataille won bronze in music; Julie Burns won bronze in language and literature and bronze in art and Deepthi Sasikumar won bronze in math. Their team placed 9th overall.
Pilgrim’s Benjamin Lopez-Carton won gold in essay, gold in economics and a bronze in top scores and Matthew Egan won gold in science. They placed 8th overall.
Warwick Vets’ Stephanie Abbott won bronze in interview; Trent Mochel won bronze in language and literature and Vets’ Courtney Buratczuk won bronze in math.
Mark Paul has two daughters, a junior and a freshman, that are on the Warwick Vets Academic Decathlon Team.
“It’s fun to watch,” said Paul of the Super Quiz portion, which parents and peers are invited to. “It’s exciting to see the kids interested in something that’s academically important.”
Caitlyn Getchell, a Vets freshman, said she became interested in competing for a very specific reason.
“It looks amazing on college applications,” she said.
Those at Pilgrim said they struggled with the math portion, and also the Super Quiz questions.
“Mainly all the questions were about Eastern Civilization,” said Stephanie Sylvia, a senior at the school. Sylvia said if students weren’t well versed in that topic, they weren’t going to do well.
Despite voicing their struggles, Pilgrim coach Linda Noble, who also teaches English at the school, said she thought her team did well.
“They were very focused,” she said during the pizza break before the awards ceremony. “I have a good feeling.”
Stephanie Catanzaro, Toll Gate coach, said her students like to compete to meet new people within their own school, and from other schools throughout the state. This year the team included 15 students, which was up from last year’s 11.
Jade Harris, a senior from Toll Gate who was returning to the decathlon for her second year said her experience gave her an advantage, but it didn’t make the questions any easier.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” she said. “But also a lot of fun.”