Westside advances in academic contest

Cleo Usry, 18, a senior at Westside High School, shuffles science flash cards as her team gets ready for the US Academic Decathlon, which will be at Berkmar High in Gwinnett County, Ga.

Westside High School will again represent Richmond County at the state level of this weekend's US Academic Decathlon.


It is the second consecutive year Westside has won the region competition.

The competition will be Friday and Saturday at Berkmar High School in Gwinnett County.

Academic decathlon teams are split into three groups: honors (3.75 to 4.0 grade-point average), scholastic (3.0 to 3.74 GPA) and varsity (2.99 GPA and below). That gives students who otherwise might not participate on an academic team a chance to do so, said Emily Welborn, 18.

"I had never been on an academic team because I have a B average," said Emily, who is on the scholastic team, "but because they have the different groups we are all represented. It gives a lot of other students a chance."

"Another cool thing about it is that with the B team (scholastic) and the C team (varsity), you expect them to make lower scores than the A team, the honors team, but it doesn't always turn out that way."

Making top grades in school doesn't guarantee success in the competition, said Azhar Mustafa, 15.

"Really, I think, it's more about knowing your strengths and being willing to study and learn," said Azhar, a member of the honors team. "With an academic decathlon team, you're getting a well-rounded team who can do a little bit of everything. They can give a speech; they can do well in an interview; and they can take a test and do well."

David Bradberry is the team's coach

"It's a very diverse group of kids," he said. "I've got cheerleaders; I've got athletes; I've got people who have jobs, people in ROTC," he said. "Despite coming from different backgrounds and interests, they really came together and pushed each other. They work very well together. That is key for any team, academic or athletic."

This year's theme for the US Academic Decathlon competitions is the French Revolution. The students will compete in economics, art, language and literature, math, science, music, super quiz, personal interview, two speeches and an essay.

The state's wining team will compete in the national championship in April in Omaha, Neb.

Going into this weekend they have to remember not to get sidetracked, said varsity team member Christian Mickens, 17.

"Everyone is really excited about going to state, so I think the hardest thing for us is going to be staying focused on the fact that we're going there to compete," he said. "If we stay focused, I think we will do really well in the competition."

Azhar agreed.

"I think it's important that we don't just say, 'We're going to state, mission accomplished,' " he said. "We have to keep working hard, see how far we can get by putting in the work."


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