Watertown students win national Academic Decathlon

The Watertown Academic Decathlon team captured first place among medium schools in the national online competition. The team members include, from left, Ella Faltersack, Emma Lemke, Christian Zastrow, Christian Rhodes, Maggie Strupp, Caden Rothschadl, Caleb Clark, Maddie Kilps and Ronan Wolfe.

“If not us, who? If not now, when?” are the quotes on the back of the Watertown High School Academic Decathlon team T-shirts.

Those quotes by the late President John F. Kennedy motivated the team forward for an impressive first place finish among medium sized schools in the National Academic Decathlon online competition. The team score was also the third highest of all schools (large, medium and small) in the competition.

The nine-member team from Watertown High school was among the five teams representing the Wisconsin Academic Decathlon program at the 40th annual USAD National Competition April 20-23.

The Watertown team received 22 individual medals, 11 gold, eight silver and three bronze in addition to their team gold medals for their first place finish among medium-sized schools.

What began as an extra curricular activity 13 years ago, is now a course offering at the school. Coach Christopher Kemp said the first year the team went to state the superintendent asked what would make for a stronger team and he informed them the top finishing teams had academic decathlon classes. Kemp approached the school board with curriculum for the course and it was approved.

While it was the first time the school won the national competition, it has placed in the top three in the past six competitions. The team from Watertown was the division champions for six years.

But the course is not just for the top students, Kemp pointed out. “It is an opportunity for kids of all academic levels to participate,” he added.

There are 35 students in the course and the group of competitors is narrowed down to nine. Three of the students are those who earn 3.75 grade point averages or above, $3.2 to 3.749 grade point averages and three students with grade point averaged 3.1 and below. “Only one-third of the students can be A students,” Kemp said.

This year’s competition was entirely virtual and online. The theme was “Water: A Most Essential Resource.”

There are seven tested areas, art, music, math, social studies, science, literature and economics.

Although the studying requires a lot of reading, the students enjoy the camaraderie and learning with their peers.

“We study with each other and share our notes,” Caleb Clark, who has been in the class for four years, said. “When I started, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said. “I stuck around and it taught me how to write an essay for college and can do a valid interview. I feel part of a team. The team environment is the best part.”

The students eat together, test together and train together, said member Ronan Wolfe. With the COVID-19 pandemic, it was difficult to do many activities outside of studying. But the group did find time to go to an Escape House in Madison for fun entertainment.

Maddie Kilps said she enjoys the class because of how it is taught. “I love to learn by lecture,” the senior said. “The class is a comprehensive lecture. I like history and philosophy,” she said. Kilps pans to attend St. Norbert College and earn a doctorate to some day be a professor.

She learned of the class from her brother who was also on the team. And now her younger brother is a member.

Ella Falkersack joined the class her senior year. “I heard a lot about it and I wanted to experience it,” she said. “I never had Mr. Kemp and I had heard about his class and I wanted to take him as a teacher.”

In January the team competed in the Cooperative Educational Services Agency No. 2, which included southeast Wisconsin. The students advanced to state competition in February and participated in nationals April 22.

The students are given 50 questions to answer. The scores from the top two students in each category are added to determine the results.

Then the waiting game begins for the results to be released, Kemp said. The students ask their coaches several times a day if the results are released.

For the national results, Kemp posted the results to a Google classroom, which the students can check often. “Or I like to sneak up on the students and tell them,” Kemp said.

The students praised Kemp and the other two coaches, Kristine Mely and Pamela Suski, for their dedication.

“It is not all about the students,” Clark said. It is a winning coach that can take students to nationals that many times, he added.

But the students will be honored with their awards Wednesday night. The state director will be present the awards at the banquet and parents night.

Individuals to be honored include Klips with a first place gold medal for being. the highest scoring scholastic student overall; Wolfe a first place gold for being the highest scoring varsity student overall; and Clark, a silver medal for being the second highest scoring scholastic student overall. Additionally, Margaret Strupp earned four medals; Kilps an additional five; Clark an additional three; Wolfe an additional six; and Caden Rothschsadl, one.

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