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‘Brainiacs’ decathlon team, best in a decade

By Alina Afzal Qureshy

The Academic Decathlon team, the “Brainiacs,” finished 9th in the city competition, the best the team has done since teacher Davoud Chitsaztehrani has been coach.

“It surprised me how well they did,” he said.

The competition took place over a few weeks, with tests administered at Steinmetz, then two full Saturdays of additional subject tests, interviews and speeches, and a super quiz.

When it was announced on Jan. 27, which teams would be advancing to the next round of competition, everyone on the team looked at each other in shock and happiness.

The team would have done even better than 9th place, if one of the team members hadn’t missed the second round.

Even though most of the Brainiacs were busy with other activities throughout the year, about three days a week they attended after school tutoring and lessons, taught by their coach and other teachers, including Dorota Ochwat, Jolanta Szefer, Michelle Mottram, Roseann Mark and Seth Patner.

Some of the schools that ranked in the top 10 have a designated class for the academic decathlon.

“Many of the students were rookies, new to the team,”  Mr. Chitsaztehrani said. “It was a good experience.”

Normally, waking up at 5:30 on a Saturday would mean turning over and going right back to sleep for me, but on Jan. 27, I had places to be.

My morning began with running around getting dressed and double checking I had everything I would need to compete in the 2018 Academic Decathlon competition, where students from 25 schools would be tested on the economics, math, history, music and science of Africa, the literature and art tests having been done the week before during school hours. Then off to school, where a school bus was waiting to take me and the rest of the team to Chicago Vocational Career Academy, the site of the first round of competition.

IMG_0258A tip: when you’re stuck on a bus for 45 minutes with a bunch of your nervous and tired classmates, bring headphones. I didn’t, and I regretted it about 5 minutes into the trip. But after spending the bus ride doing some last minute cramming, we arrived at CVCA. After registering, we all got our breakfast. And after tasting it, we all begged Mr. C to smuggle us some donuts and fruit from the coach’s breakfast. He obliged, and after stuffing my face, I was ready to head to the gym and take the first three tests.

Finding my assigned seat was easy, since it was the second table in the very front. One of my desk mates were already there, a nice girl with cool glasses from Northside. A few minutes later, our other desk mate, a girl with gorgeous purple hair from Von Steuben’s, arrived. The other two seemed to know each other from the year before, and I was too tired to talk, so I mostly restrained myself from taking a quick nap before the test begun. It felt like forever, although I had no way of checking the time since I had to leave my phone in the cafeteria.

Finally, after the supervisors had made sure everyone had a calculator and no one had a phone, the tests begun. First was economics, and then math. Each of the tests lasted 30 minutes, but I honestly breezed through those first two. Mainly because I, admittedly, hadn’t studied much for those two subjects. I had mostly focused my energies toward the subject of the third test: social sciences.

IMG_0266 (1)After the first three tests, we headed back to the cafeteria for a lunch of tacos. They weren’t that great, so I just ate the brownies that my teammate, Millie Martinez, had made for the team. After almost an hour of lunch, last minute studying, and catching up on messages from friends, the rest of the team and I headed back to the gym for the last two tests, science and music.

The music test was my favorite test of the day, after social sciences, because in the beginning they played traditional African music that we had to answer questions on. After the music test, it was break time, and we grabbed snacks from a table outside. Finally, after a 30 minute break and a quick game of Uno, it was time for the last event: the Super Quiz.

The Super Quiz involves three students a team going up together in groups according to their GPA, teaming up and answering 12 questions from a mix of subjects together, with a 10 second time limit for each question. The three groups are varsity, scholastic, and honors. I’m in varsity group, so I, along with Jorge Garcia and Adrienne Hensgen, went first. We did alright, but the groups that went after us did better. The whole thing, from beginning to end, took around one and a half hours. After that, it was time for dinner.

Dinner during the competition was always fun, with the stress of testing over for the day. We unwound ourselves with pizza, cupcakes, and lots of laughter. Some of my teammates and I even played a few rounds of ninja, a game where the goal is to hit the arms of your opponents; but the catch is you can only make one move at a time. After an hour of this, it was time for the award ceremony.

You’d think we’d have been more nervous, but that wasn’t the case. We all knew that we’d done the best we could, and there was nothing more we could do. I was just hoping I’d win the same medals as I had last year. The order in which medals were awarded for each subject was economics, math, science, art, music, social sciences, and literature.

IMG_0270 (1)The first person on the team to win a medal was Vincent Fernandez, with a 3rd place in math in honors. Next was Adrienne Hensgen and Valeriia Lytvak, both with 5th places in Science, for varsity and honors respectively. Next was me, with a 4th place in art, and then again with a 6th in music. Adrien Espino won a 4th place medal, also for music, and I went back up for a 3rd in social sciences and a 2nd in literature.

After the awards had all been given out, it was announced which of the 15 schools would be advancing to the next round of competition. When Steinmetz was announced, everyone on the team looked at each in shock and happiness. We hadn’t expected it, and I had been kind of hoping I wouldn’t have to do it all over again. But we were happy, and as we left the building and got back on the bus, I basked in the happiness of my teammates, as we sang to old P!nk and Demi Lovato songs all the way home.

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