Champions Of The Mind: Payson Heads For Playoffs

Grueling competition with lots of community support

The Payson Academic Decathlon team took second place in its region, guaranteeing them a spot in the state competition.

Photo by Michele Nelson. |

The Payson Academic Decathlon team took second place in its region, guaranteeing them a spot in the state competition.


After a grueling weekend of exams, students from Payson High School’s Academic Deca­thlon team took second place in its region, guaranteeing them a spot in the state competition.

Some 81 students converged on Payson for two days to show off a semester of intensive study of World War I, including military strategy, politics, science, art, music, economics, poetry and a host of other interlocking topics.

They went through two days of intense competition, taking tests, doing interviews, delivering speeches and then going head to head with students from nine other schools in a Jeopardy-style competition with questions so hard the audience members came away shaking their heads in amazement.

Leading members of the community stepped forward to help parents and teacher Kristi Ford host the 13th annual Arizona Region I Academic Decathlon competition, Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.


Eve Armstrong and Justice Owens were on the Payson Academic Decathlon team that won second in the regional competition.

Town council members, school board members, the superintendent, the editor of the paper, the former director of the W.P. Carey School of Business, teachers, real estate agents and business owners spent hours facilitating and judging the students’ efforts.

Many of the judges came away inspired by what they saw. “I work for the schools and don’t always hear the best things, but these kids give me hope,” said one judge after listening to nine students sit down for an interview.

Other judges, such as Payson School Board president Barbara Underwood said they always enjoy volunteering for this event.

Community organizations and individuals also supported the event with monetary donations.

APS, Mogollon Health Alliance, and the Payson Association for Advanced Students pitched in to purchase meals for the volunteers, students and coaches.

Wayne Kirby worked behind the scenes to make sure the PHS auditorium worked perfectly for the Super Quiz and awards presentation.

Acadec is a rigorous course of study that takes a topic and looks at it from different academic points of view. Started in the 1960s by an Orange County, Calif. superintendent, Dr. Robert Peterson, the decathlon of events including art history, science, language and literature, mathematics, music, social science, economics, an essay, interview and speech presentation tests a student’s grasp of the material in more depth than many college courses.

Peterson conceived of the 10-event decathlon as he whiled away the hours in a Nazi prisoner of war camp after surviving the crash of his B-17. Peterson believed teamwork and competition could inspire even a student who mostly receives Cs in school.

And he was right.

Eight schools sent student to Payson High School from as far away as Kingman and the Hopi reservation to match wits with other Acadec (as its called) students on the year’s topic, World War I.

Payson has participated in Acadec for the past three years.

On the evening of Friday, Jan. 31, 68 students dressed in suits and business attire wandered between Payson High classrooms swallowing their fear to sit for an interview or present a prepared as well as an extemporaneous speech. The students had already written essays earlier in the week.

In the hallway outside of the interview rooms manned by three Payson volunteers, students waited with clenched hands, or stared at walls, or fought back tears caused from nerves.

As the door opened, volunteers welcomed the student by name, shook their hand and introduced them to the other judges in the room.

Then the questions started, first personal information then specific questions about World War I.

As students finished, most mumbled that they thought they had done poorly, while others had a more dramatic response.

“They asked me about art!” sobbed one girl as her teammates and coach surrounded her with hugs.

The support students share with each other is reminiscent of the cheers sports teams give each other.

Each team has up to nine students compete. Three with an A average, three with a B average and three with a C average — if the team has enough students.

On Saturday, students started at 7:30 a.m. taking a half dozen multiple choice question tests.

Then it was onto the Super Quiz — a Jeopardy-type quiz done on a stage in front of an audience.

Questions this year included genetics, the Schlieffen Plan, the causes of the war, details of Ernest Hemmingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” arcane economic analysis, trends in post-war music, details from poems and a mind-numbing array of other topics.

One question asked why Lady Brett Ashley’s hat and hair were mussed after a trip. Another question asked what economic concept created the post-war boom times in the U.S.

Audience members rolled their eyes and gasped at the questions. Some said they could only answer a handful of the 64 asked by Payson dentist Charlie Beier, who emceed the event.

“Seriously,” said the genial Beier after the awards ceremony, “I think I had like three of the answers.”

But it was Sarah Morris, the state chair for the Academic Decathlon interview competition that summed up the blessings of an event held in the Rim Country. She trained the volunteer judges, which included council and school board members, ministers, town officials, retired university professors and a host of others.

“This is great, in Phoenix no one knows anyone. Here, they say, ‘Oh yeah, so-and-so will be late, don’t worry, they called me, they will be here.’ It’s such a community here,” she said as everyone sat down to a delicious dinner prepared by Gerardo Moceri of Gerardo’s Firewood Cafe.


H. Wm. Rhea III 2 years, 11 months ago

My wife was invited to be one of the judges for this event and previous ones. She always speaks of how well the students do and which ones she's impressed with. Good job PHS students!


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