Decathlon. By definition, it’s an athletic event comprised of ten different events. Its roots are Greek: "dec," meaning "ten" and “athlon” meaning "prize or contest." Although the term typically classifies a sporting event, it can be used more loosely. Take the Academic Decathlon, for example: An event comprised of ten different events, none of which were physical activities although using a pencil to complete a test and delivering a speech can be physical. Instead, the Academic Decathlon is more of an IQ Olympics. Sunday was the 29th Rhode Island Academic Decathlon, and the scene was reminiscent of its name’s ancient roots.
Students from 17 schools packed into the seats of CCRI’s theater, a round, stadium-style space ala Rome’s Circus Maximus.
In groups, young gladiators were called forth to compete in a battle of wits known as the Super Quiz.
Instead of being armed with a sword and shield, these warriors bore Number 2 pencils and sheets of paper. With mere seconds to make decisions on their tactics, they put their gray matter and graphite to work, hoping for glory, but sometimes facing defeat.
The crowd roared with triumph and sighed when their favorite competitor lost out to the stronger, mightier beast in the ring. Fortunately, these young gladiators did not have to fight a snarling lion or tiger, but they did have to face ferociously challenging questions.
Earlier in the day, the decathletes stretched their intellects to tackle topics like math, science, economics, language and literature, art and music. They put their composition skills to the test in the essay event, and took the podium as orators in the speech portion. There were no discus in this decathlon, but there were discussions – students were also interviewed and scored on their poise and eloquence.
There was even a celebratory symposium of sorts where students convened after the competition was finished. With music blaring and tables set for feasting (on pizza and punch), the students congratulated one another on jobs well done and commiserated over topics that were just too tough.
When the day was over, the top competitors walked away with shining gold, silver and bronze medals. Those who accrued the most points throughout the ten events took home plaques and trophies. The competitors glistened with their shiny accoutrements and their supporters and coaches glowed with adoration.
The decathlon was equal parts Sparta and Athens: aggressive and fierce but also highly intellectual.
So, no, this decathlon was not the epic sporting event from days of yore. But it does prove that though the brain isn’t a muscle, it can still get a mighty workout.