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A handful of Morenci High School's academic decathlon team and their coaches show off this year's awards. Back row from left: Renee Still, Hunter Lindsey, Gus Lindsey, Jonas Johnson and T.J. Gomez. In front, Mia and Elianna Cazares.

A few of them are athletes. Some are musicians. Some are over achievers and others simply like to vegetate on the couch. Meet Morenci High School’s decathlon team.

For the past seven years, MHS math teacher Renee Still has been gathering students with a wide variety of interests and intellectual abilities to compete in Arizona Academic Decathlons.

The “decathletes” compete against their counterparts statewide in seven areas: economics, art, language and literature, mathematics, music, social science, and science. In addition, students amass points in three communication events: the prepared and impromptu speech event, the oral interview event and the essay writing event. The students are divided into three sections, those with grade point averages of 3.8 and above, 3.2 to 3.79 and those with GPAs 3.19 and below.

This year, Morenci placed third in the regional competition allowing them to compete in the state competition. It was the first year freshmen were allowed on the team and the 13-member Wildcats brought home a Rookie of the Year award from state.

Every year, the competitions involve a theme. This year it was the Cold War and next year it will be Water. Although the season just ended, the students will soon receive their copies of Jack London’s “Sea-Wolf” to read over the summer. The book will likely prompt essay and interview questions.

Still brings in teachers from throughout the high school to familiarize all of the students with their areas of expertise. The themes are so broad, there’s no way of knowing what might pop up at the competitions, she said.

“It’s been good to see the kids out of just my content area and see them get excited about other topics or different content,” Still said. “It’s just a great way to get to know some kids that a lot of times you’re not going to get to know. They’re not your typical in-every-sport athlete and I think it’s important to have just as many opportunities for students who are less athletically inclined and yet they truly feel connected to the school. These kids get pretty darn close. They can say about anything they need to say to each other. They become a little more family-oriented.”

Despite their dissimilarities, in the end each student has a great work ethic and a competitive nature, she said.

Freshman Mia Cazares, 15, joined the team after being recruited by her older sister, Elianna, 17. They had to compete virtually this year and Mia hopes to be able to travel to competitions in the future.

In the meantime, Mia said being a decathlete should help her when she’s applying for scholarships. She hopes to one day attend the University of Arizona and become a psychiatrist.

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Elianna joined the team because she knew it would help her academically and in her search for scholarships. The future business major loves preparing and delivering speeches and the feeling that comes when she knows she’s done well. The softball player and marching band members misses traveling with the team and hopes they’ll be able to travel during her senior year next year.

Senior Hunter Lindsey, 18, said decathlons sounded like fun and she was looking for ways to improve in her worst subject: math. She hopes to study business and animal science at New Mexico State University beginning next year.

Before joining the team, she would never have spoken up at her livestock meetings and now she doesn’t give it another thought, Hunter said.

This year she recruited her brother, Gus, 14, to the team. Gus said he was looking for something that didn’t involve athletics to fill his time. He’s not sure what his future will hold, but being on the team has taught him better study skills. He’s planning on taking culinary and electrical classes next year to see if either appeals to him as a potential career.

Jonas Johnson, 15, didn’t have a choice. Once his mom found out Still had recruited him, she made him sign up. In hindsight, he’s glad she did.

“I’ve learned a lot more than I would have sitting at home,” Jonas said.

He’s also “definitely” improved his speaking skills.

“I’m not good with people and this has helped with that and gotten me more comfortable about having to meet people in the first place,” Jonas said.

Assistant Coach T.J. Gomez joined the team this year.

“I think these kids are really awesome. I enjoy their diversity and the different depths of knowledge that they bring to the overall group. That’s what makes academic decathlons really super unique,” Gomez said. “They’re all coming from different experiences and backgrounds and different ways of understanding something. It’s not just me and Mrs. Still helping them understand something because they help each other and teach each other. As coaches we just help facilitate the environment so they can do that.”

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