State champions
Canyon Del Oro High School’s Academic Decathlon team won the state competition earlier this month at Red Mountain High School in Mesa. The team is now preparing for the national competition in Charlotte, North Carolina in late April. courtesy photo

First state, now the nation.

Earlier this month, students on Canyon Del Oro High School’s Academic Decathlon team won the 2011 state competition. The team of nine students beat out 39 other teams comprised of about 350 students, allowing them to compete at the national competition late next month. Their scoring from the state competition put the team in fifth place in the county.

“We spend many, many hours after school, and the kids read at home and I work with them after school studying,” said the team’s coach, Chris Yetman. “In addition to that, we practice writing essays, and we practice giving replies to interview questions, and we practice impromptu speeches.”

The team this year is composed of Anna Hainsworth, Marissa Watts, Jeannie Wilkening, Phillip Gotobed, David Argentati, Selina Baeza-Loya, Chelsea Parraga, Cameron Donnelly and Krista Cullen.

Hainsworth beat out all other Arizona competitors with a score of 8,828 points out of a possible 10,000, the third-highest score in the United States this year, Yetman said.

Gotobed placed third in scholastic division, while Parraga placed first and Cameron Donnelly placed second in the varsity division.

This year’s Academic Decathlon’s curriculum revolved around the Great Depression. Students were asked questions in the areas of art, economics, literature, math, music, science and history,

which all pertained back to the curriculum.

The team of nine students is comprised of three students with an A average, three students with a B average, and three who average C grades. Their grade-average is based on the two previous years’ core academic classes.

For some, the Academic Decathlon comes easy and studying is natural; for others it is more of a stretch to learn the material.

In a lot of cases, Yetman said, it is the C-grade student who can make or break a team.

“I have seen so many students who were in high school, and were C-students, learn how to study and become really enamored about academics,” Yetman said. “I have watched them exceed where they might not have exceeded had they not been involved and participated in the competition.”

Within the academic decathlon, A-students are in the “honors division,” B-students are in the “scholastic division,” and C-students are in the “varsity division.”

One of the team’s varsity students who has had to learn how to balance studying for the Academic Decathlon along with her other classes is senior Chelsea Parraga.

“It definitely takes some practice, but you get into sort of the habit and the flow of things,” Parraga said, “It forces you to be organized and to really be on top of things. So if you don’t pick up on that and you sort of struggle with organizing your time, you can get behind really easily.”

One of the perks Parraga noticed of being on the Academic Decathlon team is getting to travel to places. The team will head to Charlotte, North Carolina, for the national competition near the end of April.

Parraga and one of her teammates, junior and scholastic student Selina Baeza-Loya, have made good friends through the program and help each other through some of the more stressful times preparing for competitions. The Academic Decathlon team meets six days a week, Monday through Saturday, for three or four hours each day, studying the curriculum.

“As a team, we usually do really well,” Baeza-Loya said. “We order pizza, we hang out, and we watch movies. We basically do everything we can together. Within that comes just being best friends to each other and support each other the whole way through it.”

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