Coaches play key roles in upcoming Academic Decathlon

Posted 2/28/24

Cranston high school students are not likely to know the name Frank Lenox, but rest assured teachers at East and West  have been in contact with him since the beginning of the academic year.

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Coaches play key roles in upcoming Academic Decathlon


Warwick high school students are not likely to know the name Frank Lenox, but rest assured teachers at Bishop Hendricken, Pilgrim and Toll Gate High Schools have been in contact with him since the beginning of the academic year.

Lenox, a physics teacher at East Greenwich High School, is the executive director of the Rhode Island Academic Decathlon, a day-long competition that will be held Sunday, March 3 at Bryant University. The three Warwick teams are among 15 teams vying to represent the state in the worldwide competition being held April 25-26 in Pittsburgh. In addition, team members are competing for individual medals within three divisions:  Honors, which is made up of students with 3.75–4.00 GPA, Scholastic (3.00–3.74 GPA), and Varsity (0.00–2.99 GPA).

That all sounds highly numbers-driven, which it is. However, as Lenox has experienced as coach of the East Greenwich team for 25 years, the decathlon does more than shine a light on the best and brightest.

In a recent interview, Lenox was asked, How do you motivate kids to take on extra academic work when they feel they get enough of it in school? 

“Students who want to continue their education at the college level are under a lot of pressure to distinguish themselves from their peers, in particular, extracurriculars that help them stand out in the application process,” he answered in an email.

“AD provides this opportunity, but it requires commitment. Rather than listing 10 different activities, colleges are looking for a commitment to two or three activities and to excel. Earning a position on the AD team shows commitment. The best part is that students have 10 different areas to display,” he said.

While aspects of the decathlon correlate with course work, such as math, essay, economics and social sciences, much of the competition draws skills and knowledge outside of the curriculum. The speech is frequently cited by students as the most challenging part of the competition. Competitors deliver a prepared and an impromptu speech of volunteer judges. There is also an interview component where a panel of volunteer judges grade competitors.

Yet another component to the event, the super quiz, is outside the high school curriculum. The quiz conducted in an auditorium setting with spectators is the final event and based on the overarching theme of the competition. Reading materials as well as tests, such as music and art, may incorporate questions relative to the theme.

“The year's theme, Technology and Humanity, comes with the explosion of AI - mostly ChatGPT. While many students are comfortable with the 'technology' piece, the 'humanity' element is something they have a lot to learn about. There is a balancing act between the two, and it is interesting to see students trying to find that balance,” said Lenox.

RI history of decathlon

The history of the Academic Decathlon in Rhode Island dates back to 1983. Fifteen years,  earlier the concept of academic contest based on a series of competitions in academic disciplines took root in California under the direction of Dr. Robert Peterson. As the decathlon caught on, Peterson looked to introduce to the event to more and more states. Invitations to compete in the nations to individual schools to send a team to  the United States competition even though they were in states with no state competition.

Bishop Hendricken High School followed up on the invitation in the spring of 1983, returning with several individual medals. The news was the catalyst to the formation of group seeking to create a state academic decathlon. Representatives from public, private and parochial schools, teacher unions, school organizations , corporations  and legislators formed a board of directors and by the start of the academic year in 1983 more than 30 schools were preparing for a December competition that year.

Over the decades, RI Academic Decathlon has played host to the national competition on two occasions with events held in Providence involving more than 50 teams from across the country and several foreign teams . This year’s United States Academic Decathlon will be held in Pittsburgh. And as has been the practice since the state organization was founded, the state winner will be granted sufficient funds to make the trip to the nationals,  albeit  one year in Hawaii and another in Alaska.

Prospects of traveling may be the allure of the decathlon for some, but it’s hardly enough to get students to hit the books after a full day of classes.

It’s not the most daunting aspect from Lenox’s perspective.

“What is the toughest thing about coaching an academic team, especially when the teams are designed to be inclusive of students with varying skills? Students in the Honors and Scholastic division are naturally draw to AD. Varsity students, on the other hand, need some incentive to commit to AD. Each one is different and it takes time to learn what interests them. Needless to day, the team is incomplete without them,” he said.

The Warwick teams

The Hendricken team, coached by  Leeanne Soprano and assistant Megan Longo, consists of Gabriel McInnis, Logan Perrigo, Alejandro Quintero Cashore, Zach Brown, Nolan LaPerche, Julian Burke, Benjamin Dusseault, Kiernan Elliot, Jackson Kretzer and Jetson Wilk.

Longtime coach Steve Belanger coaches the Toll Gate team, made up of Mackenzie Anderson, Ja'Qwan Burrill, Jaylene Le, Alexa Lautieri, Alyssa Myers, Danica Weedon, Christopher Herrera, Ahmainy Garcia, Sam Girard, Alina Dorsey, Rebecca Farias, Samanatha Lin, Sophia Mora, Brielle Renshaw, Estherangelica Santana, Laurel Breault, Karleigh Ferraro and Jackson Fields.

Mike Lalonde coaches the Pilgrim team, assisted by Scott Bayha. Team members are Keaney Bayha, Henry Iech, Nicholas Pigeon, Carter Clifton, Eian McNamara, Jacob Soulliere, Ava Holland, Liam Holmes, Nicholas Izzo, Tiffany Blanco, Liliana Daigneault, Lia Franchetti, Victoria Hawkins, Hunter Schobel, Elliot St. Germain, Cole Bigelli, Carly Pettinicchio.

And what keeps the Rhode Island Decathlon running after all these years?

“RIAD relies on the support of volunteers and generous donors. Our speech and interview judges get to interact directly with our students are impressed with the level of preparation they go through to prepare for our state competition. It is both rewarding and inspiring to hear the feedback from our judges. And a key element for any school team is the coach, who has to be there to provide academic support, mental support, and physical support (namely food), at every step in the team's preparation,” said Lenox.

RIAD, decathlon, coaches


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  • rgartmayer

    This is not the same version of the article that is the Thursday paper copy of the Beacon? Where is the story of the Warwick teams?

    Thursday, February 29 Report this