Academic Decathalon

Jacob Szczecina, Staff Writer

There are tons of clubs at CHS. For good reason, too—with such a large and diverse student body, there need to be clubs and activities that fit everyone’s interests. With so many awesome choices, finding just a few to dedicate your time and energy to is a tall order. When looking for a club, I had a few things in mind. I wanted an activity that would interest me, teach me valuable skills, and—most importantly—be tons of fun. After hearing countless testimonies about how awesome Academic Decathlon was, I decided to give the club a shot.

    And just like that, my experience with Academic Decathlon began. I joined as a junior, still not having broken out of my shell. Coming into a new club like this, with so many unfamiliar faces, I was very nervous. What if I wouldn’t make any friends? The other members were an outgoing bunch, quick to introduce themselves and crack some jokes. They made me feel very welcome and accepted. I had never felt more at home with people I had just met.

    There was a burning question on my mind: What exactly is this whole Academic Decathlon thing?

“Well, it’s like a team,” they would reply. “For academics, but not really school type academics. We learn about countries and time periods, give speeches and receive interviews, and compete against other schools at big competitions and stuff.” I was instantly sold. I would be able to pick the subjects that sounded cool to me, and focus on learning and improving my skills to beat other schools in competitions. I could finally indulge in my long-time interest in economics, check out some WWII literature, and deliver off-the-cuff speeches all at once. As nerdy as it sounds, it seemed too good to be true. The atmosphere at meetings, however, didn’t feel nerdy in the slightest—everyone was welcome, from the average C student to the academic wizards. Everyone had a good time, everyone bonded, and I came to really love the tight-knit group that Academic Decathlon created.

    As the year went on and the team grew closer together, the regional competition was rapidly approaching. Some of my best AcaDeca memories come from the cram sessions we held after school, with the entire team laughing, hanging out, eating dinner, and cramming for the competition together. As a first-year member, my expectations for the competition weren’t high, but I ended up scoring the highest among the Clifton team. This came as a surprise to everyone, especially me, and I qualified for the state competition as an individual competitor. The state competition was tons of fun, and I couldn’t wait to work hard and bring the entire team with me next year.

    Even after the competition passed, the skills I learned stuck with me. Learning to interview well and delivering speeches proved to be immensely valuable skills as the school year went on. I was offered interviews for both RYLA and Boy’s State, two selective programs offered to high school juniors, and was eventually accepted into both. At Boy’s State, my on-the-fly speaking skills got me elected to the highest positions in the program. These opportunities opened many doors, both as resume points and learning experiences. For this, I have Academic Decathlon to thank.

    Senior year rolled around, and as the newly selected Captain of the AcaDeca team, I had high hopes for the year. We had a strong roster, and I wanted to create the same kind of inviting environment that had made me love Academic Decathlon so much in the first place. With a positive attitude throughout the various struggles of senior year, I pushed through and so did the team. We placed second at the Regional competition, and I couldn’t be more proud of our team. People were receiving medals left and right, and Clifton’s academic might was finally making a splash in the community. We qualified for the State competition, and we kept grinding. After just a few more weeks, the state competition arrived, and we were determined to make our mark. The Clifton team received multiple medals and honorable mentions at the state level.

    Our successes haven’t carried beyond just the Academic Decathlon sphere, however. The seniors on the team have been accepted to multiple Ivy League schools and other prestigious universities, and I think we’d all agree that AcaDeca played a major role in that success. Now, as we move forward into the college world, we look to the next group of great Academic Decathlon members to carry on the culture and environment that makes this team so great. This club has make a permanent impact on my life, and I know for certain that I’ll never forget the experiences I had at Academic Decathlon.