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Near all-rookie Hendricken team wins national academic event

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It was 1983 and a group out of California, the United States Academic Decathlon, was looking to stir up national interest in a newly created program to turn the spotlight on academic achievement. To launch the competition, named because it features 10 different academic disciplines, the organization sent invitations to schools across the country to compete in the national event.

One Rhode Island school, Bishop Hendricken High School, accepted the challenge, returning home with a couple of gold medals in individual subject areas. That experience was the seed to the formation of a non-profit organization that created the Rhode Island Academic Decathlon that has conducted a state competition for the past 34 years.

The Hendricken team has returned to the nationals – after winning the state event – on several occasions. Last week they did something no other Ocean State team has done in all those years. They won first place in their division, beating out 13 other schools including a team from Shanghai, China, that placed second in the event held in Madison, Wisconsin.

Not only did the team, scoring a total of 43,612.5 points out of a possible 60,000 points, come out on top, but they did it virtually with rookies. Only one member of the team, Ryan Brady, is a senior and a veteran of the 2016 squad that gave Hendricken a second place finish in the small school division in Anchorage, Alaska.

At this time last year, Coach Sister Carol Ann Murray questioned whether the school could be competitive in the state event with a practically all new team, no less go on to compete in the nationals. The team not only gelled but proved they had their stuff in the state competition where they racked up at least 20,000 more points that the second place finisher.

Reached by phone Sunday in Wisconsin (the team was scheduled to return late Monday night), Sister Carol was still riding a high. She attributed the team’s success to their diligence and in particular to Ryan Brady. Brady is a “C” student. Decathlon teams have a maximum of nine members comprised of three students with grade point averages of A, B and C.

Ryan was earning Cs and Ds at Hendricken when Sister Carol recognized his potential and told him, “You need me as much as I need you.”

“I can be a severe witch sometimes, I know that,” said Sister Carol, who has taught chemistry at Hendricken for the last 25 years and coached the decathlon team for as long. Sister Carol drills the team and confesses to staying up until 1 a.m. coming up with questions to keep the team on their toes.

Then, as the national competition approached, Ryan’s grandmother, whose health was failing, died. Ryan was unable to leave when the team took off for Wisconsin last Tuesday, but he vowed to join them.

Sister Carol believes Ryan’s ability to deal with that personal adversity made him even stronger. Ryan scored the highest of all “C” ranked students in the competition, which helped carry the team to its overall win.

The “game changer” in Sister Carol’s opinion was arriving early for the competition. She said the team buckled down to work, boning up on material and quizzing one another.

“They gave it 100 percent,” she said.

At one point she asked whether they wanted to go out for lunch. Their answer surprised her and dared her to think they had a shot of taking top honors.

“They said no and asked if I might go out and bring back something.”

As it turns out, the team is bringing back a lot of metal, in fact, a total of 31 medals.

Sister Carol said there were some tense moments during the awards banquet as she celebrated the individual medals won by team members while keeping track of what other teams were doing. She was trying to guess how the team might finish and realized the Wisconsin team was at their heels. (While a number of foreign teams competed, they could not qualify for the national honors.)

At one point during the banquet, Sister Carol visited the Wisconsin team, discovering they were carefully tallying the Rhode Island medals. The Wisconsin coach thought it was too close to call but was holding out for the first place.

“I’m praying very hard, and that’s one area where I’ve got you beat,” Sister Carol remembers saying. She was right.

As for next year, Sister Carol isn’t sure what she’ll do.

“I might take them on one more year,” she said.

With the exception of Ryan, who graduates this year, she’ll have a seasoned team.

Medal winners were as follows: A division – Steven Huang (gold in music, math, and science; silver in economics, speech, and essay; bronze in art), Dylan Temel (gold in economics and speech; silver in art; bronze in music, math, science, and social science); B division - Mitchell Boyer (gold in essay; silver in speech and science), Connor Milson (bronze in language and literature), Alden Pratt (bronze in essay, science, and speech); C division – Ryan Brady (gold in economics, music, language and literature, science, and social science; silver in art and speech; bronze in essay), Darragh Harkin (gold in interview); Jaidan Idarraga (bronze in math). Five students placed individually: A division - Steven Huang (first), Dylan Temel (Second); B division – Mitchell Boyer (second), Alden Pratt (third); C division - Ryan Brady (first). Cory Morris, who was in the A division is also a member of the team and shared in the team success.

The team also placed second in the Super Quiz.

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