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Local high school students preparing for virtual national academic decathlon


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SHELLEY — A group of students at Shelley High School are gearing up for a national competition.

Members of the Academic Decathlon team qualified for nationals for the second year in a row, and they’re thrilled to represent their school in a virtual competition this year after last year’s event was canceled due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tringle Witt, a coach for the academic team, tells that the journey last year was rough.

“It was hard,” she said. “When we were heading up, everything was coming down.”

The students had been studying for weeks preparing for three separate events in the competition – multiple-choice tests, essays, and speech/interviews. They are provided packets of information related to a specific topic to study up on and begin their research.

They drove to the first day of the State event in Northern Idaho, just to learn that the competition was going to be shut down. Instead of stewing in the decisions that were out of their control, they decided to get to work to be ready for 2021.

Honors: Jarrett (Pablo) Haroldsen, Elana Baron, Malaya Witt, Brigham Mclane, Sam Bush, Jaedyn Rogers – Scholastic: Adilynn Gunter, Taron Witt, Kyle Christensen – Varsity: Cassidy Bateman, Emma Hornof

This year’s topic was “The Cold War.” The material they were tested on, whether on the subjects of English, science, literature, etc. were focused on that topic with college-level material. Math questions focused on Geometry or Calculus.

Each group that enters the competition consists of nine members, all of whom participate in all three of the events. In order to diversify the members, only three can have a GPA of 3.8-4.0, three between 3.3-3.8, and three with a GPA below 3.3.

“It ends up being really highly inclusive,” Witt says.

The scores from the events are combined together in order to get a team score. Last year, the group qualified for nationals with a score of 29,000 points. This year, however, they broke their personal record with a score of 32,000.

After sitting on the edge of their seats, awaiting the results of all teams in Idaho, it was announced that they placed third in their division and fourth overall in the state, which was enough to qualify for Nationals.

The National competition will be done remotely this year throughout the month of April. Though it will be different, the group and coach Witt are just happy with the lessons they learned when they got this chance again.

“Despite everything that has happened in the past, we can still have control of what we do in the future,” Witt says. “I have seen the impact of just learning for the sake of learning.”

All aspects of these competitions will be virtual, according to the official website for the event. Details will be shared when available. It’s unclear whether people will be able to watch parts online.

Anyone interested in starting an Academic Decathlon team in their school can get the details by contacting the state director Mary Bird at and check out more details on the website.