The academic decathlon team at Nimitz High School has a decorated record of success. Last year, the team won regionals for the 26th time and advanced to state for the 33rd year in a row, finishing fifth.
Adding to the prestige is that it’s a different group of students every year.
“It’s not like we have this one group of kids that’s done it year after year after year,” says Greg Jackson, Nimitz academic decathlon head coach. “Each year, the students just pick up the mantle of the tradition that we have, the expectations, the legacy. They buy into that, and they let it propel them to heights they didn’t really think they could attain.”
One such student is senior Melanie Chapman, one of two returning members from last year’s regional champion-team and a leader on this year’s squad.
“The success had last year – we wouldn’t have done it without her,” says Jackson. “She played a major role in helping those kids get to where they needed to go.”
From the beginning, Chapman made an impression on the team. Academic decathlon teams are made up of no more than three students in each level: A, B and C, but only the top two in each level count toward the team score. Last year, Jackson anticipated seasoned members to have it covered. However, Chapman had other plans.
“I was looking for somebody, preferably an underclassmen, to come in last year, get some experience and be ready to go this year,” he says. “Melanie came in, and she was doing a good job. But she kept coming and coming, doing better and better. She ended up being our No. 2 A student. We would not have won regionals without her. She came in and wanted to beat those guys. She wanted to be the best.”
“She has this fire inside of her. She can do anything she sets her mind to as she goes through life,” he continues. “It’s kind of hard to take on a mantle of leadership when you’re a junior and there are six seniors all with experience. But she kind of took on that secondary role of pushing the juniors to be better. And this year, she’s been a great leader for our team. She’s led by example this year. From day one, she almost always has one of the best scores on the tests we take.”
But her contributions to the team don’t stop at her high scores.
“She asked me early on for their phone numbers so she could get a little chat group going,” says Jackson. “It’s things like that set her apart from others.”
Chapman attributes her success in academic decathlon to her dedication to the team and competition.
“Being successful in academic decathlon is less about your raw intelligence and more about the work you’re willing to put in to get the results that you want,” she says. “I’d say I’m a smart person, but it wouldn’t mean anything in academic decathlon if I wasn’t willing to put in the hours and hours of studying and preparation it takes. For anyone to be successful you have to want it, you have to be determined and push yourself to study and work hard for the results you want to see.”
And although it may be hard work, Chapman relishes the memories and experience garnered through academic decathlon.
“I know that in five years, even when I’m long gone from Nimitz High, I’m going to remember these years and academic decathlon more than anything,” she says. “I think I’m going to carry that with me for the rest of my life, as someone who can lead other people to encourage them to do the same thing and also lead myself to continue getting the success I want in life.
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The academic decathlon teams from Irving, MacArthur and Nimitz high schools will host the Irving ISD practice meet on Saturday, November 14. More than 60 schools from as far as Wisconsin, California, Ohio, Massachusetts and even Alaska as well as the defending state champion – Dulles High School – will participate in the virtual event.
“It’s very exciting that Irving ISD is bringing all of these teams together, even if it’s just in a virtual sense, from all across the country to celebrate academic decathlon,” says Jackson.