Rutherford, N.J. – The Rutherford High School Academic Decathlon Team won the Medium School Championship in the state competition over the weekend on February 29, earning a spot at the national competition in Anchorage, Alaska. Rutherford students took home 40 individual awards and placed 2nd overall in the state, which was announced during the awards dinner on Wednesday, March 4th.
“Everyone on the team was incredibly anxious all night,” said teacher and coach Jason Narozny, who has a 21-year history of guiding Decathlon participants. “Once the awards began to be announced, the team wasn’t winning as much as they did at regionals and was almost convinced we weren’t going to win our division. But, as the final team rankings were announced and the 5th, 4th, and 3rd places still hadn’t included Rutherford, reality set in that we are going to Alaska!”
Sophomore Kara Brennan won 8 awards in the February 29th competition, including 3 gold medals and 3rd place overall in her category. Senior Matt Peeples took 3rd place in his category while also collecting 5 other awards, including gold for interview.
“I’m incredibly proud of this team,” said Narozny, who also coached the 2009 and 2010 Rutherford teams that won state championships. “They motivate each other to study, to outline, and to take practice tests more than I’ve seen in at least 10 years.”
Academic Decathlon is loosely patterned after the physical demands of the athletic version that requires prowess in 10 track and field events. But the brawn in this competition comes from brains, as students are expected to outscore peers in science, literature, art, music, social science, economics and math. In addition to the breadth of those seven subjects, they are tested through an interview, an essay, and a speech. All of that is framed within a theme, which this year is “Illness and Wellness.”
Up to 18 students can join the team, but there’s a catch. Decathlon rules require team composition to be evenly comprised of students with various grade point averages; no teams are stocked with all-A students. Everyone competes equally, and individual scores are blended to create the team score.
Studying begins in May and students spend the summer reviewing study guides and writing speeches. In August, they regroup for three full days affectionately called “geek week.” Once their regular high school classes resume, Decathlon becomes a twice-a-week afterschool club focused on academics.
This is the third time that Rutherford High School has made it into the finals, and Narozny believes this team has a great shot in placing there, too. “They are so excited about going to Alaska, but they are also very determined.”
The United States National Decathlon Finals will be held in Anchorage, Alaska April 30- May 2, 2020.