The idea for the academic decathlon came from Dr. Robert Peterson. As Superintendent of the Orange County Schools in California, he wanted to develop a mechanism to influence the motivation of students at all grade levels to strive for academic excellence. In 1968, the academic decathlon was tried in the Orange County Schools. In 1982, the competition became a national contest. Nebraska became involved in 1983 when the Talented and Gifted Department of the Omaha Public Schools (OPS) ran the program for its seven schools. After three years, the Superintendent of OPS decided he did not want one of its units to operate a statewide program. After several educationally-based organizations with a statewide mission refused the sponsorship role, the Optimist Clubs of Nebraska agreed to sponsor the program and convinced the University of Nebraska at Omaha to join them in a co-sponsorship role.
Creighton University became involved in the program in 1987 when the University Registrar, John Krecek, agreed to serve as the State Credentials Evaluator. During the 1995-96 year, Creighton University joined the University of Nebraska at Omaha as an academic cosponsor.
In order to operate the program, a nonprofit corporation called the Nebraska Academic Decathlon, Inc. was formed. No member of the corporation receives a salary. The total work of this organization is conducted o a voluntary basis. In addition, the corporation has never received any money from the state of Nebraska. Of the 39 academic decathlon programs in America, the Nebraska program is the only one where an all-volunteer force runs the program and has never received any state funds. During the 2000-2001 academic year Creighton University became the sole academic cosponsor.
The Academic Decathlon strives to develop a greater respect for knowledge, to stimulate intellectual growth and achievement, to emphasize the need for increased communication skills, and to promote wholesome inter-school academic competition.
In Nebraska, approximately 65 high schools from across the state field teams. Participating schools range from very small schools to very large metropolitan schools. Both public and private schools compete. Each team is composed of a minimum of six students—two Honor students, two Scholastic students, and two Varsity students. Students are selected in accordance with the following grade point definitions:
Schools are encouraged to have six additional members of the same grade point level breakdown on an alternate team. The Academic Decathlon encourages the participation of students of all academic backgrounds and all grade levels. Students may be high school freshmen, sophomores, juniors, or seniors.
The Academic Decathlon is composed of 10 events. There are six multiple choice exams in addition to essay, speech, interview, and the Super Quiz events.
Multiple choice exams are given in the following subject areas:
3. Language and literature
6. Social Science
The teams compete in regional competitions throughout the state in January for the right to advance to the state finals held annually at Creighton University on the third full weekend in February. During the finals, the students participate in the essay, speech and interview events on Friday evening form approximately 6:00 to 9:30 p.m. The remaining events are held on Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Super quiz is the final academic event. This event is conducted in an oral relay format and is open to the public. Each year, several hundred parents, relatives, classmates, and other interested individuals attend the Super Quiz on Saturday afternoon in the Ballroom of the Skutt Student Center. Scholarships are awarded to every regular member of the first, second, and third place teams. Creighton has been the recipient of many academic decathlon students in past years. This year, five new scholarship winners entered Creighton. In addition, a number of the coaches are Creighton graduates. The Nebraska Championship team advances to the National Final to compete against teams from the other 38 states. Travel expenses for the regular team members and their coach are paid by the Nebraska Academic Decathlon.
The Super Quiz is a focused topic that changes each year. This year the topic is oceanography. Within each subject area the topics of study also vary from year to year. In past years, for example, the area of music included a study of jazz, while in another it included country music, and in still another year it included classical music. Students who compete for more than one year will have completely different educational experience each year.
The method of preparation of the teams for the Academic Decathlon competition varies widely by school. Some schools have established a course in the high school curriculum that prepares the students for competition while others view this as an extra curricular activity with the preparation either before or after school. Countless hours are spent by dedicated coaches in preparation for the competition. In spite of the limited funding and all volunteer work force, the Nebraska Championship team has always performed quite well at the National Finals.
Questions about the Creighton sponsorship of the Nebraska Academic Decathlon should be directed to John Anstey.