2020 Alaska Academic Decathlon awards ceremony

Ketchikan High School students, from left, Sandra Johnston, Sarah Short, Evelyn Nutt, Campbell Sande, Franchezca Mae Correa, Matthew Nutt, and Jacob Pattinson celebrate during the awards ceremony in the 2020 Alaska Academic Decathlon on Jan. 18 at Kayhi. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

With the end of the school year comes new opportunities for Ketchikan High School decathletes to prepare for the upcoming season of academic competition.

The United States Academic Decathlon organization announced the theme for the 2020-21 school year's season last month, and released study and resource guides for participants.

The U.S. Academic Decathlon chose the Cold War to be the center of the new season.

According to online USAD information, the theme will cull information from topics of music, literature, art, mathematics, social science, economics and science from or about the era.

"It's a great topic, I think, because all high school students are exposed to some level of knowledge about the Cold War, so they all are familiar with the concept; they know the basics," explained Kayhi AcDec team coach Peter Stanton during a recent phone interview with the Daily News. "But then if they wanted to join academic decathlon, they would just have the opportunity to be exposed to so many more facets of the topic."

 Although the school year just ended late last month for students, decathletes now have the chance to start preparing for their competitions.

 "A lot of people are used to high school activities just being contained within a single season or a few months out of the year, but academic decathlon is a bit of a wider ranging activity because really, if the students are dedicated enough, they could be studying for nine months of the year — from May until the state competition in February," Stanton said.

The Kayhi team has decided to get a head start when it comes to studying this summer.

Stanton this year has high hopes for his small team of both newcomers and experienced competitors.

Stanton told the Daily News that last season's team was small and mostly consisted of younger students — recent Kayhi graduate Campbell Sande was the sole senior on the team for the 2019-20 school year.

"I've got a lot of veterans who are going to be coming back next year (2020-21 school year), of a wide range of ages," Stanton said during a recent phone interview with the Daily News. "I've got some really dedicated seniors who will be leaving the team and some really dedicated younger students, so I'm excited. I think it's going to be a great group."

Stanton estimated that his current team roster includes about a dozen decathletes, although that number jumps up to around an estimated 15 when he considers students whom he knows have expressed interest in joining the team.

Although Stanton usually hosts a couple of team meetings throughout the summer, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has changed his regular plans — pushing him to begin regular virtual meetings for the team.

"My rising seniors really wanted to start doing activities as a team since we were coming out with the new materials, and they wanted to get a head start," Stanton explained. "So they asked me if we could start doing some weekly team practices via Zoom."

The practices happen every Monday at 5 p.m., and are useful for the team to walk through the study guides and discuss the curriculum.

In a separate phone interview with the Daily News, senior August Cooper said that the meetings have been "very cool."

Cooper commented that until the release of the study guides, the meetings had been for "going over general outlines" of the information they would be expected to learn.

"I think (now) we'll actually start to go more in-depth into the guides," the four-year AcDec team member said.

 Cooper said that the new topic is "pretty interesting" and " very full of information."

"It's definitely different from studying health and disease last year," he said.

 For Cooper, being a rising senior on the team brings "clarity and responsibility."

Cooper has not yet delved deep into the provided study guides, but has started brainstorming ideas for speeches he will give during this year's Ac/Dec season.

Another rising senior, Evelyn Nutt, told the Daily News that the team is "making it work" with Zoom practices online, but that physical meetings are the best for expressing information.

She’s excited about this year's theme, and thinks that it will be easier to understand than the 2019-20 season theme of "in sickness and in health."

Nutt said last season's theme was broad, which made it hard to decipher what was most important to study.

"The first time I heard about what topic it was, I was very excited because it's something that I really enjoy," she said. "It's going to teach us about, like, you know, the hydrogen bomb and how it was invented and all of that history that seems to be a bit controversial, even today, and I just think it's extremely relevant."

Nutt has already read through study guides and finished the assigned reading, Kurt Vonnegut's novel "Cat's Cradle."

As a senior, Nutt is ready to finish out her high school career strong.

Nutt said that she plans to go "100%, 110% even" during this season, because it will be her last chance to "express myself this well."

"Being on this academic decathlon team for my senior year means so much," she said.

 Nutt said that in order to succeed, her team needs to be supportive of each other, as studying properly is hard without a team.

"If things start out right, I think we will be on our way to state, and hopefully — this is a very big hope — but I'm really hoping we can go to nationals," Nutt expressed. "That's only if — only if —we have that support that I'm talking about."