Ketchikan High Academic Decathlon team gets a hero’s welcome

A crowd braves wind-driven rain to welcome home Ketchikan High School’s Academic Decathlon team. The team won first place at the recent national competition. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

A crowd of determined well-wishers braved a wind-driven downpour to cheer the Ketchikan High School team’s return from Texas, where they took top honors at the national competition.

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The rain was coming down by the bucketful, and sideways because of all the wind. But that didn’t deter a big crowd from hanging around outside and waiting for Ketchikan’s Academic Decathlon – or AcDc — team to arrive.

It’s not often, after all, that a small island community in Alaska brings home a first place national win. This is a big deal. And in Ketchikan, that means bagpipes.

Before all the cheering and piping, KRBD caught up with the team at the airport and talked with a few members waiting in baggage claim.

Largim Zhuta is a senior this year, and said winning first place in the small-schools division is a great way to end his high school career.

“It’s still kind of settling in that we won,” Largim said. “It’s pretty fricking amazing that we were able to make history twice. Not only win state for the first time in Southeast history, but first Alaska team to get first place at nationals. That’s pretty huge.”

Zhuta said winning was especially gratifying because they were competing against all the top schools throughout the United States.

Kethickan High senior Lydia Sumrall has been with the Academic Decathlon team three years. She said the team has gotten stronger every year, and winning state proved that. Sumrall said they were just happy to be part of the national competition in Frisco, Texas.

“I think we went down there not necessarily expecting to win, but knowing that it was possible,” Sumrall said. “And so the fact that we went above and beyond and did win was really incredible for us. Over-the-wall happy.”

Sumrall said science is her best area, but she enjoys all the objective categories.

“The fact that the objective tests have such meticulous right or wrong answers gets me totally driven to study and to know the material,” Sumrall said. “So whenever I do well on one of those, it’s very fulfilling to know I got to that deep of a level to know what was going to be on the test.”

Sumrall said she hopes Ketchikan’s accomplishments this year will inspire other small schools in Alaska.

This year was the first year with Academic Decathlon for senior Adrian Ronquillo. He said he heard about the team last year from his cousin.

“I saw her working on something in her living room. It was a bunch of guides. This pertained to Academic Decathlon,” Ronquillo said. “I asked her what it was all about. And she’s like, ‘We study for fun.’ I was like, ‘Why?’”

So, Ronquillo didn’t sign up that year, but he was recruited by some friends to try this year. He studied for fun and now he’s got a national championship medal hanging around his neck.

Sitting on the ferry, damp from a brief dash through the rain, team Coach Peter Stanton said the national competition experience was intense, but other than making sure the students were where they should be, he didn’t have a whole lot to do.

“I just had to sit back and watch and hope for the best,” Stanton said.

Stanton said they had an inkling by the time of the awards ceremony that they were going to do well.

“We knew what our competition was and what other small schools in the nation were closest to us,” Stanton said. “We heard Monmouth Academy from Maine, they got third place, we heard that. Then we heard DaVinci Academy from Utah, and at that point I think most all of us realized, ‘Wow, we actually did it.’ If those two took third and second, those were our closest competitors. And then they called us up and it was pretty amazing.”

Ketchikan is the first Alaska team to win at nationals. Stanton said a likely contributing factor is that previous state teams to attend that competition were from larger schools. They competed in Division II. Ketchikan is small enough to qualify for Division III.

At the same time, though, those kids worked hard and their success is well deserved. Just ask all those people waiting at the ferry terminal.

The Kethickan High team also won “Rookie of the Year” at nationals, and took second place in the Division III SuperQuiz.

A group shot of Ketchikan High School’s Academic Decathlon team and a welcome committee at the Ketchikan airport ferry terminal. The team just returned from Texas, where they won first place at nationals. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)
  • Charisma Manalo placed 4th in Music, 4th in Science and contributed the 3rd-highest score on the team, with an individual total score of 6,769.1.
  • Largim Zhuta won a bronze medal in Science.
  • Emme Andersen won bronze in Music and bronze in Literature.
  • Adrian Ronquillo won bronze in Music, bronze in Economics and silver in Science.
  • Megan Cornwall won a bronze medal in Science, gold in Speech and gold in interview.
  • Mackenzie Fousel won bronze in Economics, bronze in Science, silver in Art, silver in Literature, gold in Music, gold in Mathematics and earned a $500 scholarship with the 3rd-highest varsity total score in Division III.
  • Lydia Sumrall won bronze in Essay, bronze in Social Science, silver in Economics, silver in Music, silver in Science, gold in Art and earned a $750 scholarship with the 2nd-highest varsity total score in Division III.
  • Max Varela won bronze in Science, gold in Art, gold in Economics, gold in Social Science and won $500 for being selected as the most valuable team member and having the team’s highest individual total score of 7,595.4.

(Individual team members’ information provided by coach Peter Stanton)