Scores of multi-tiered silver and gold trophies lined the top of a partition in the Canyon Del Oro High School classroom.
The monuments weren’t of storied athletic campaigns. Rather, the trophies marked successive triumphs of the mind, the Oro Valley high school’s long run of Academic Decathlon victories.
This weekend, March 6 and 7, CDO’s Academic Decathlon squad will compete for top honors at the state tournament.
Chris Yetman, the nine-member team’s coach and a CDO calculus teacher, scanned the row of trophies.
For the last eight years, the CDO team has won the Southern Arizona regional competition. This year’s group won the Jan. 31 regional in smashing fashion, in fact, posting a state-high score of 46,965.6 points, out of 60,000 possible.
“Despite all this hardware,” Yetman said on a recent Thursday afternoon, motioning to the trophies, “it’s only the second time that’s happened to us.”
The last time a CDO team posted a regional high score, in 2006, it came away with a state title.
So, the pressure’s on for this year’s squad.
“This is my last chance (to win a state title), in two weeks, one day,” senior Marie Clymer said Thursday, Feb. 19. “I’m kind of having a panic attack.”
Clymer and her teammates huddled on a pair of couches in Yetman’s classroom to study, from 3:30 to 6 p.m., as they have nearly every day for the past couple of months.
Nerves aside, Clymer said the high-pressure experience has helped her mentally prepare for the hefty workload she’ll likely endure in college next year.
“I now know that I will have to work hard in college and won’t be able to simply skate through classes, even if they are in my stronger areas,” she said. “I think the biggest way it has affected my approach to academics is that I’ve learned how to study effectively and focus.”
Created by an Orange County, Calif., superintendent in 1968, the Academic Decathlon consists of seven multiple-choice tests (in art, economics, language/literature, math, music, science and social science), two performance events, including a quiz-show style competition, and an essay. Each year, all teams study a particular topic. This year’s theme is Latin America.
The competition is designed to include students with all academic abilities. Each team consists of nine members, who are divided into three categories based on grade-point average — honors (3.75-4.0 GPA), scholastic (3.0-3.74 GPA) and varsity (0.0-2.99 GPA).
“It puts them in a venue where they can prove themselves intellectually,” Yetman said.
The varsity team members often represent some of his smartest students, the teacher noted. Their GPAs, however, tend to reflect slack study habits.
“I have a tendency not to do homework,” admitted junior Jordan Kurker-Mraz, a varsity competitor. Still, Kurker-Mraz signed up last year to participate in the yearlong CDO Academic Decathlon slog.
Yetman has taught the school’s decathlon class since the 1999-2000 term.
Each spring he begins recruiting from the student body at large, visiting classes and scouting talent much like an athletic coach.
Yetman starts each year with 35 kids, and, each fall, he gives the students two quizzes a day to see who “bubbles to the top.”
The nine students lining his couches on Feb. 19 represented the cream of the crop, and Yetman has told them as much — his own form of raising the stakes for competition.
This year’s decathlon team “is one of the best,” Yetman said. “I’ve told them all.”
A few groaned, especially Marie Clymer.
“He gives ‘you suck’ speeches,” she said jokingly of her teacher’s efforts to prod them to work harder.
“He calls me just to say that,” junior Rush Moore quipped.
Whether the CDO squad comes away this weekend with another Academic Decathlon title matters less to Yetman than whether his students benefit from the intense experience.
“Winning is awfully nice … but what people get are skills,” the teacher said.
“Actually studying,” Kurker-Mraz said of what he’s learned to do during his year with the team.
Still, the junior wants to win, badly. “This would be a lot of work if there wasn’t the payoff.”
The Canyon Del Oro High School Academic Decathlon team will compete for the state title Friday and Saturday, March 6 and 7, at Sandra Day O’Connor High School in Phoenix.
A CDO team last won the state title in 2006. The school’s teams have won regional titles in each of the last eight years.
Members of the 2009 squad include:
• Taylor Cleland, senior
• Marie Clymer, senior
• Benjamin Ferell, senior
• Melinda Fraser, senior
• Jordan Kurker-Mraz, junior
• Rush Moore, junior
• Dylan Ousley, senior
• Danielle “Ellie” Strasser, junior
• Jennifer Wendel, senior