Academic Decathlon team claims regional title
Motivation has never been a problem for the New Richmond High School Academic Decathlon team in past seasons. But this year, after finishing third at last year’s state competition, coach Jarrod Hamdorf has seen his team become even more motivated to make it back to the state competition to compete for a state title.
“The students who take part in the Academic Decathlon are always very self-motivated, especially this year’s team,” Hamdorf said. “This year, the team is extremely hard-working and has been doing an awesome job. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
The team took one giant step toward claiming a state title on Friday, Jan. 10, by taking first place in the Division 2 Wisconsin Academic Decathlon Regional Competition at UW-Barron County, which earned the team an automatic berth in the state competition.
“We were really excited to get first place at the regionals,” said junior Ally Halonen, who took third in the Honors division at the competition. “We were sitting there waiting for our scores to come up and we weren’t really sure we were going to take first because we were really close with the team that beat us out for first in last year’s regionals. As a team we have made some big improvements this year and we feel like we can get first at the state level too.”
Halonen was not the only New Richmond team member who placed in the top three. Meredith Jarchow and Natalie Janka took second and third respectively in the Scholastic Division, while Nick Bradish and Jacob Postma finished first and second in the Varsity Division.
“When I saw that I had gotten third overall, I was really excited,” Halonen said. “I didn’t think I would since I wasn’t placing in a lot of the categories, but I was able to get a lot of fourth place finishes and that boosted my score enough to take third.”
Academic Decathlon is split into three separate divisions based on GPA: Honor (3.75-4.00), Scholastic (3.00-3.74) and Varsity (0-2.99). Students compete in 10 subject areas, such as art, economics, music and science, based on a common theme. This year’s theme is World War I.
“As a whole, this year’s topic is a lot easier than last year’s, mostly because it is easier to relate to since the United States had a big involvement in the war,” said Halonen, who is in her second year on the Academic Decathlon team. “This year, I’ve seen a big improvement in my scores, but the questions get a lot harder as you go on and become a lot more in depth, so I’m going to need to keep studying hard.”
The key to creating a winning team, according to Hamdorf, is to pick students who represent a cross section of skill and knowledge levels from throughout the high school because a team is scored based on all three different divisions.
“They score you based on your top two scores from each division, so you need to have a balanced team in order to compete and do well at the competitions,” Hamdorf said. “There are a total of 10,000 points each student can get, so the most points possible is 60,000. So, in the end, I have to pick the 12 best students (nine starters and three alternatives) to make sure we stand the best chance to do well as a team.”
To prepare themselves for each competition, Halonen and her teammates study their binders, which are full of material for each category, including 100-page packets that outline the information the students will need to be familiar with in each subject.
“The students get their study material in the spring the year before, so they have a lot of time to start studying everything and trying to see all of the information through the lens of World War I,” Hamdorf said. “As part of their studying the kids need to read a novel, know music by ear and know art by sight. We meet as a group two times a week for an hour-and-ahalf and read through the material together.”
With every level of competition the New Richmond team reaches, the questions they see will be that much harder, and the information they will need to know will be that much more detailed.
“Some of the questions we see are about some small details, but they are also looking to see how well you grasp the core concepts of the subjects,” Halonen said. “Every competition gets harder and harder though, so it is a lot more rigorous as you move on. The other teams also get a lot better too at the state level since more of them are committed to doing well than at some of the earlier competitions.”
Five teams from New Richmond’s regional moved on to the state competition, including Melrose-Mindoro, Eau Claire Regis, Durand and Northland Pines, to make a total of 20 teams from the four regions that will stand in the way of a state title for New Richmond. According to Hamdorf, his team will face its toughest competition from the powerhouse teams out of the eastern part of the state.
“We have competed against a lot different teams throughout the area and the state, but the schools in the Milwaukee area and a few others will pose the biggest challenge for us,” Hamdorf said. “There are 150 teams that start the season in contention for the state title, but by regionals that number is down to 60. Only 20 teams make it to the state level, and we are the fifth-ranked team in the state.”
The state competition isn’t until March, so Halonen and her teammates have a little while longer to polish up on every subject in their binders and make sure they know everything they possibly can to bring home a state title. However, for Halonen, winning state isn’t the only thing that is driving her.
“It is all hard work, but in the end it is really rewarding when you do well,” Halonen said. “The prestige of it all is also really nice to be a part of since it is a national event.”