Meet the first-place Cazenovia Academic Decathlon team

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Screen shot 2013-08-22 at 11.12.22 PMDarren Mihaich detests homework. But just about every day, after the last school bell rings, the Cazenovia High School senior plunks down at a desk in teacher Martin Kelly’s classroom. To study. He pores over curriculum guides in art, science, math, language and, his personal favorite, history. But it’s not make-up work. It’s not test prep for one of his classes. And it’s definitely not homework. (At least not to Darren.) Nope, these daily scholastic calisthenics are practice sessions for the 13-member Cazenovia Academic Decathlon team. And practice apparently does make perfect, because the local squad won first place overall and brought home 23 medals and five individual trophies from last weekend’s 2013 regional competition at Westhill High School. Cazenovia now advances to the state-level decathlon, scheduled for March 15 and 16 at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse. After that, nationals will be in Minneapolis, Minn., in April. Last year, Cazenovia placed fifth in its division (small school) at the national competition, and 25th overall. “We were one of the smallest public schools at nationals, by a sizable margin” said junior Robert “Bob” Louis. During the daylong events, competitors take seven written exams – each with 50 multiple-choice questions and a 30-minute time limit. Next, they participate in an oral relay quiz in front of an audience. In all, the students are tested in 10 categories — art, economics, essay, interview, language and literature, mathematics, music, science, social science and speech. That’s hundreds of academically rigorous questions. On a Saturday. Just for fun. And lest you assume the Academic Decathlon team is the exclusive domain of straight-A students, guess again. According to the official rules, each AD team must consist of three A students, three B students and three C students. (The Cazenovia team also has four alternates.) The team fills its ranks by scouting out new recruits in each “academic weight class,” according to Bob, who’s been on the team for three years. Darren is the team’s only four-year member and one of the team’s three captains. As a freshman, he was approached by a team member who noticed Darren never did his homework, but passed all his tests “with flying colors.” He had all the makings of a “C.” “We look for people who display an intelligence that transcends what you see in school,” Bob, also a captain, explained. “Someone who goes beyond the book.” The rest of the team roster includes: David Martellock (the third team captain), Emma Dudley, Danielle Axelson, Kyle Polhamus, Riley Lloyd, Schyler Rochelle, Gaevin Froio, Caden Boone, Brock Houghton, Remi Boissonnas and Joseph Mevec. The team not only handles recruitment, members also take turns teaching each other materials during their meetings. This year’s theme is Russia, so there’s been plenty of Boris Pasternak in the language study guide, 1960s space race in the science materials and communism in the economics section. “It’s very student run,” said Mr. Kelly, who serves as one of the club’s two faculty advisers, along with Christie Brenneck. “It’s their club.” Members also organize fund-raisers throughout the year to help pay for travel-related expenses. Community donations to the team can be sent to the district office. While both Bob and Darren admit the demands of the club might sometimes compete with their actual schoolwork, they also know they’re gaining invaluable college preparation. “We all have the personal drive to study on our own,” Darren said. “It’s a supportive, motivated community,” Bob said. Good luck in March, team!

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