Southeast decathlon teams do well in state competition

Craig High School's Academic Decathlon team poses for a photo with its awards after four days of competing in the Alaska Academic Decathlon on Feb. 22-25 in Anchorage.

Southeast Alaska’s Academic Decathlon teams fared well in the statewide competition in Anchorage Feb. 22-25.


In Division III, for small schools, the first place trophy went to Metlakatla High School, coached by Rob Salisbury. In the same division second place went to Craig High School, coached by Jessica Lee. In Division I, Interior Distance Education of Alaska (IDEA), a state-wide homeschooling program run by the Galena School District, earned third place.

The school team that won the overall competition, and will go on to the national competition in New Mexico in April, is Lathrop High School in Fairbanks, coached by Chris Benschoof and Katherine Geerdes.

The state Academic Decathlon is broken up into several categories of schools and student achievement levels. Schools are separated into small, medium and large sizes. Students are represented in Varsity (C-range students), Scholastic (B-range), and Honors (A-range).

“Most academic decathlons are only interested in the A students, the 4.0’s,” said Curtiss Clifton, state director for the Alaska Academic Decathlon. “They want the students with the big scores, single subjects. We are not like that. We want a balanced team of ‘A,’ ‘B,’ and ‘C’ students.”

He said the competition is well-rounded because it doesn’t focus on a single subject area, using the math bowl or science bowl as an example, but a wide array of subjects.

“We ask our teams to focus on 10,” Clifton said. “It really is a very well-rounded group of students participating in a well rounded competition.”

Clifton said the universities also present well-rounded rewards. There are at least nine scholarships awarded at the event, but not all of them go to the students with 4.0 GPAs. Clifton said universities pick out students that would best fit their programs, but they also like choosing students from the competition because these are students — ‘A,’ ‘B,’ and ‘C’ level — who are spending their spare time studying for a non-required competition.

Categories included economics, math, art, music, science, speech and interviews. Clifton said speech is a really grueling competition. Each participant comes with a prepared speech, presented for four judges. They then have to come up with an impromptu speech in one minute based on given prompts. Clifton said the interview competition also is intense, as students bring polished resumes to another panel of four judges — who are usually executives or those of similar backgrounds. Judges ask questions about their resumes and then ask four “mind bender” questions. Clifton said the competition is designed so that students — freshmen to seniors — can go into a job interview and win the job.

Another part of the competition is the “super quiz,” both a written one for individuals and then the team version. Clifton said there was a written quiz focusing on the Age of the Empire. Students answered questions about empire building from the 1500s to the 1980s, with a variety of countries and empires involved.

Clifton said the team Super Quiz is set in an arena where all the teams line up next to each other. He said it gets to be a rowdy event with students “hootin’ and hollerin’” when someone gets an answer correct, and a few red faces when the answer is incorrect.

Eighteen teams participated this year, two more than last year.

Winners for students in Southeast are:

• Math: Adam Soto of Juneau, scholastic division, bronze medal; Leo Steedle of Juneau, varsity division, silver medal.

• Science: Adam Soto of Juneau, scholastic division, silver medal; John Turknett of Ketchikan, varsity division, gold medal; Thomas Keeffe of Juneau (IDEA), honors division, gold medal.

Economics: Thomas Keeffe of Juneau (IDEA), honors division, gold medal.

• Language and literature: Jamelyn Zeller of Juneau, varsity division, bronze medal.

• Art: Leo Steedle of Juneau, varsity division, bronze medal; Drake Goodson of Ketchikan, honors division, bronze medal.

• Music: Leo Steedle of Juneau, varsity division, bronze medal; Megan Sheufelt of Juneau, honors division, bronze medal. Leslie Snodderly of Ketchikan, honors division, silver medal; Thomas Keeffe of Juneau, honors division, bronze medal.

• Speech: Leo Steedle of Juneau, varsity division, silver medal; Brindalyn Greaves of Ketchikan, scholastic division, silver medal.

• Interview: Tazia Wagner of Metlakatla, varsity division, bronze medal; Kyonia Williams of Metlakatla, honors division, bronze medal; Zackeri Ward of Craig, varsity division, silver medal; Brindalyn Greaves of Ketchikan, scholastic division, silver medal.

• Written Super Quiz: John Turknett of Ketchikan, varsity division, silver medal; Abbie Sweetman of Ketchikan, honors division, silver medal.

• Team Super Quiz: Ketchikan came in third place, with coach Sean Powell. This competition was not tiered on school size.

The overall highest scoring student on each Southeast team was: Oliver Price, Craig High School; Megan Sheufelt, Juneau-Douglas High School; Abbie Sweetman, Ketchikan High School, Justin Janes, Metlakatla High School.

Juneau’s team, coached by Karina Reyes, had eight medals.

Metlakatla and IDEA also got special prizes — the Fleetwood Achievement Award. Clifton said a new award was given this year in honor of a decathlon board member who died this year.

“It’s for the greatest improvement in academic score,” Clifton said. “That’s why the ‘C’ students are included. It gives them a team, it gives them an environment where they don’t want to let their team members down. They end up becoming ‘B’ students and ‘A’ students.”

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at

This article has been changed to reflect the awards received by Interior Distance Education of Alaska, or IDEA, and its Juneau-based student, Thomas Keeffe.


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