LOLStates and Academic Decathlon
When I was a junior and senior in high school, I signed up for the United States Academic Decathlon…it’s kinda tough to explain the appeal of this program to non-nerds, seeing as essentially, the program amounts to studying and test-taking for fun, yet it was one of the defining experiences I had during high school, and to this day, even though a lot has slipped away from me, I feel like I know way too much about climatology, the social and economic issues surrounding communist China, and the Renaissance. (Any decathlete who was performing during the year the Renaissance was the topic might also recall that it was matched alongside Anatomy and Physiology…I dare not claim to “know way too much” about A&P, seeing as I barely studied that the year it was covered!)
I think one of the things that made the experience memorable to me was finding the AcaDecTalk forum (now called Demidectalk), which was sponsored at varying degrees of arm’s length by the study material company (and founder of the World Scholar’s Cup) DemiDec. What being on Acadectalk did was provide me examples of several other competitors from across the nation who were, to be completely honest, way more dedicated to Academic Decathlon than I had been.
Out of a possible 10,000 points for an individual, I earned around 7,000 points at the state level competition and something around 6,500 at Nationals during my junior year. At state, that 7,000 translated to a medal in every event — and the same was true for most of my teammates. In fact, we felt pretty awesome, considering we were just continuing on a (at-the-time) seven-year winning streak.
However, the awards ceremony for Nationals was a considerably different affair. It was depressing. Not only did nearly all of us drop in score from state to nationals, but the ceremony basically amounted to our sitting and eating while countless names from California, Texas, Illinois, and Wisconsin continued to walk back up and down the stage to receive their medals for each of the ten events.
The highlight of the event (for me) was the fact that I was able to win one medal…although I had somewhat of advance warning that this might happen. The night before, I was selected to participate in the Speech Showcase, which highlights the top-selected prepared speeches of the national competition. It’s not a guarantee that being in speech showcase will mean you get a medal, as the speech event also has an impromptu speech that could drag your official score down (the speech showcase only takes into consideration the prepared speech), but for me, I did receive a medal for speech.
I think that’s what gave me something of an in with other acadectalkers…
What I realized quickly on that forum (as if the nationals award ceremony wasn’t enough to drill the point home), was that Oklahoma — along with basically all of the competing states other than California, Texas, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Arizona — was regarded as something known as a LOLstate.
The term “LOLstate” doesn’t have a precise definition — I don’t even remember when this term came into use — but the gist of it is that these are the states in the competition who can be counted on never to yield a nationally competitive team. Since decathlon teams are scored by taking the top six scores (two from each grade category: “honors,” “scholastic,” and “varsity”), and as I mentioned, the top possible individual score is 10,0000, that means the top possible team score is 60,000. While the national champion score is usually somewhere around or above 50,000, the generally accepted cutoff between LOLstate and non-LOLstate is 46,000.
My first year competing, my team earned 37,000 points.
There are some people who express resentment at LOLstates. Since only one school gets to go from each state to the national competition, competitive states (Texas, California, and Arizona) generally end up with several schools that may only have been a few hundred points away from first…yet that’s no cigar. To put it in another way, if those teams who competed at nationals were the 50 top-placing teams in the nation, the basically, AcaDec nationals would *basically* become a second California state competition, with Texas and Arizona teams blended in (and Illinois’ Whitney Young and Wisconsin’s Waukesha West sprinkled on top as well.) And so, when a competitor from a Texas school who got second or third place with a state competition team score in excess of 47,000 finds out that if he had only competed in a state a few hours north, east, or west, he could’ve gained a spot to nationals with 10,000 fewer points, he or she can be understandably miffed.
My embarrassment at my first national tournament caused me to want to do better for myself, but I didn’t quite realize that Decathlon — even though one takes all exams individually, interviews individually, writes his essay individually, speaks individually — is ultimately a team effort. And so for my senior year, I tried to put my all into studying for the material individually…and ultimately, I propelled myself to scores over 8,000 at both state and nationals (but at nationals, still…only one medal…this time, for economics. And, for that matter, this was still low 8,000s as well.)
And I would actually be remiss in not mentioning that my teammates were pretty impressive that year too. Whereas in my junior year, I had been the only one to score above 7,000 at state, in my senior year, while I was at 8,xxx, I had another team member score above 7,000 and a few score in the 6,000 range.
(But at the time, and even now, the thought that flows to the front of my mind is that to most people familiar with Acadec, that’s really not impressive at all. I see scores from Texas teams and California teams — the ones that didn’t even win their competitions — where the entire team is above 8,000 and they may have some competitors above 9,000.)
Even today, I still don’t know how I could’ve been more of a “team player.” More of a “team leader” or “team captain” rather than lone wolf. I still don’t know the answer to the question of, “How do you motivate someone who isn’t already self-motivated?” And in university, although I changed gears (from Acadec to fencing), I still really didn’t know how to answer that question.
And some times, I would like to think that it would be nice to go back and figure out the answer to that question. It would be nice to enter an early retirement from the extreme (EXTREEEM) world of public accounting to go back to my high school and become the Academic Decathlon coach…to turn — possibly over decades — Oklahoma from a LOLstate into a national competitor. (It’s not unheard of…in the past, Oklahoma has placed as high as 4th nationally…but that wasn’t my school…) Even while I talk to myself about it, I know I won’t really do it (too pragmatic to give up this salary, benefits, and security…and plus, I really would make a crappy teacher), but sometimes, there are events that make me THINK about doing it.
One such event was during last year’s decathlon season. That’s when the (then) 11-year winning streak my high school had was broken. But that wasn’t all.
See, if it was broken purely because other teams pulled ahead, I would actually be happy for the state as a whole. Because, believe it or not, I don’t think that Eisenhower should just have a straight ticket to nationals every year with state-scores of around 38-40k points. I’d love if other schools were able to push beyond that score range, forcing Eisenhower decathletes to invest more time to keeping ahead. Sometime my coaching fantasy extends to rage-quitting Eisenhower completely and deciding that they don’t “want” it badly enough, so I respond by going to a far hungrier, yet less experienced team instead. (Yeah, I have pretty involved fantasies here…)
…But that’s not what happened. Instead, I heard news that the team had collapsed. There was a falling out with the new coach and the team, and as a result, many members of the team walked away. The team that competed after the cataclysm wasn’t, to say the least, competing on its best foot.
As a result, instead of Oklahoma becoming more competitive on the national scale, it was less so, with the school that eventually represented Oklahoma at nationals — MacArthur High School — scoring only 28,000 points at nationals.
I can’t imagine what the MacArthur team had felt going to Nationals for the first time. What did they feel like when they won and found out they would go? What did they feel like when they were actually in Charlotte? And what did they feel like when they were at the awards banquet?
Did anyone feel like I did my first year competing?
Why this post? Why now?
I write this post today because this is about the time for state competitions to be held for another year. I’ve seen some topics at Demidectalk (and have seen some ecstatic posts on Facebook for the state champion’s coach) about Texas, and just recently I heard the news about Oklahoma’s performance.
This year, the third school of Lawton’s three high schools — the namesake Lawton High — won the Oklahoma state decathlon competition. While the full link requires a log in, so that won’t be helpful, I’ll just say that the details of the story once again reveal less-than-positive developments.
First, I will say, I think it’s really great that Mr. Jackson, coach of the LHS team, is getting to go to Nationals. I think there’s something to be said about working at something for over a decade, and then finally getting it. Yet the full story reveals darker facts.
Eisenhower didn’t even field a team this year. For that matter, no one competed at the state competition other than Lawton High and MacArthur. So, a state that many people already dismiss as a “LOLstate” when it comes to Academic Decathlon manages to decline even further in its prospects.