Coaches play key roles in upcoming Academic Decathlon

Posted 2/28/24

Cranston high school students are not likely to know the name Frank Lenox, but rest assured teachers at East and West  have been in contact with him since the beginning of the academic year.

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Coaches play key roles in upcoming Academic Decathlon


Cranston high school students are not likely to know the name Frank Lenox, but rest assured teachers at East and West  have been in contact with him since the beginning of the academic year.

Lenox, a physics teacher at East Greenwich High School, is the executive director of the Rhode Island Academic Decathlon, a day long competition that will be held Sunday, Mach 3 at Bryant University. The two Cranston teams are among 15 teams vying to represent the state in the world wide competition being held April 25-26 in Pittsburgh. In addition, team members are competing for individual medals within three divisions :  Honors this is made up of students with 3.75–4.00 GPA, Scholastic (3.00–3.74 GPA), and Varsity (0.00–2.99 GPA)..

That all sounds highly numbers driven, which it is. However, as Lenox has experienced as coach of the East Greenwich team for 25 years, the decathlon does more than shine a light on the best and brightest.

In a recent interview, Lenox was asked, How do you motivate kids to take on extra academic work when they feel they get enough of it in school?

“Students who want to continue their education at the college level are under a lot of pressure to distinguish themselves from their peers, in particular, extracurriculars that help them stand out in the application process,” he answered in an email.

“AD provides this opportunity, but it requires commitment. Rather than listing 10 different activities, colleges are looking for a commitment to 2 or 3 activities and to excel. Earning a position on the AD team shows commitment. The best part is that students have 10 different areas to display,” he said.

While aspects of the decathlon correlate with course work, such as math, essay, and social sciences, much of the competition draws skills and knowledge outside of the curriculum. The speech is frequently cited by students as the most challenging part of the competition. Competitors deliver a prepared and an impromptu speech before a panel of volunteer judges. There is also an interview component where volunteers judge performance.

Yet another component to the event, the super quiz, is outside the high school curriculum. The quiz conducted in an auditorium setting with spectators is the final event and based on the overarching theme of the competition. Reading materials as well as tests, such as music and art, may incorporate questions relative to the theme.

“The year's theme, Technology and Humanity, comes with the explosion of AI - mostly ChatGPT. While many students are comfortable with the 'technology' piece, the 'humanity' element is something they have a lot to learn about. There is a balancing act between the two, and it is interesting to see students trying to find that balance,” said Lenox.

How it started in RI


The history of the Academic Decathlon in Rhode Island dates back to 1983. Fifteen years earlier the concept of academic contest based on a series of competitions in academic disciplines took root in California under the direction of Dr. Robert Peterson. As the decathlon caught on, Peterson looked to introduce to the event to more and more states. Invitations to compete in the nations to individual schools to send a team to  the United States competition even though they were in states with no state competition.

Bishop Hendricken High School followed up on the invitation in the spring of 1983, returning with several individual medals. The news was the catalyst to the formation of group seeking to create a state academic decathlon. Representatives from public, private and parochial schools, teacher unions, school organizations , corporations  and legislators formed a board of directors and by the start of the academic year in 1983 more than 30 schools were preparing for a December competition that year.

Over the decades, RI Academic Decathlon has hosted the national competition on two occasions with events held in Providence involving more than 50 teams from across the country and several foreign teams . This year’s United States Academic Decathlon will be held in Pittsburgh. And as has been the practice since the state organization was founded, the state winner will be granted sufficient funds to make the trip to the nationals,  albeit  one year in Hawaii and another in Alaska.

Prospects of traveling may be the allure of the decathlon for some, but it’s hardly enough to get students to hit the books after a full day of classes.

The most daunting aspect of coaching from Lenox’s perspective is pulling the team together.

“What is the toughest thing about coaching an academic team, especially when the teams are designed to be inclusive of students with varying skills? Students in the Honors and Scholastic division are naturally draw to AD. Varsity students, on the other hand, need some incentive to commit to AD. Each one is different and it takes time to learn what interests them. Needless to day, the team is incomplete without them,” he said.

The Cranston teams

Christine Luther-Morris is coach of the West team made up of  Sophie Appel, Henry Cheng, Sarah Chin, Jack Goldthwait, Nicholas Martin, Olivia Tedeschi-Moran, Timothy Davey, Grace DiBiasio, Evan Lei, Zachary Leone and Isabella Perrotta.  Jessica Morales assisted by  Nicole Sabetta coach the East team of Patrick DeRosa, Briana Lazarte, Evangeline Quintana, Pangzong Kue, Wesley Sanchez and Samanta Zaten.

And what keeps the Rhode Island Decathlon running after all these years?

“RIAD relies on the support of volunteers and generous donors. Our speech and interview judges get to interact directly with our students are impressed with the level of preparation they go through to prepare for our state competition. It is both rewarding and inspiring to hear the feedback from our judges. And a key element for any school team is the coach, who has to be there to provide academic support, mental support, and physical support (namely food), at every step in the team's preparation,” said Lenox.

RIAD, decathlon, coaches


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