Arizona Daily Star
These students win contests off the field
By Andrea Rivera
While sports competition seems to command much attention at many schools, academic battles are heating up on the Northwest Side. Students who've already won locally and regionally are moving on to bigger contests. Here are some highlights.
CDO goes to Nationals
Canyon del Oro High School's Academic Decathlon team left Monday for Memphis to compete in the United States Academic Decathlon Nationals Competition, which is a team and individual competition that tests students in 10 events.
The competition is called "the premier scholastic competition for high school students."
Competition began Wednesday and a winner will be crowned Saturday.
Canyon del Oro, 25 W. Calle Concordia, last sent an Academic Decathlon team to the finals in 2006.
The nine-person team and their coach started preparing in June for a spot in the finals.
"There is a lot of natural talent on this team," team member Marie Clymer said. "My teammates are very bright and motivated people. It has been great to work with them."
To get to the finals, Canyon del Oro secured victories at regional and state competitions.
Most recently, the team defeated second-place Mesa Red Mountain High School by 3,000 points in March to win the state contest and the chance to represent Arizona at the national competition.
Members of the Canyon del Oro team also won 31 individual medals at the state contest for finishing in first, second or third place in one of the 10 events.
Seniors Benjamin Ferell, Taylor Cleland and Clymer were part of last year's team and provided leadership for the 2009 team.
Decathlon coach Chris Yetman, a math teacher at Canyon del Oro, said that leadership and having an overall talented team led to the team's victory at state.
"We found a very strong and committed and talented group of students to join them," he said. Canyon del Oro's team also includes Melinda Fraser, Jennifer Wendel, Ellie Strasser, Dylan Ousley, Rush Moore and Jordan Kurker-Mraz.
The team breakdown consists of three "A" or honor students, three "B" or scholastic students and three "C" or varsity students.
Kurker-Mraz, a junior, is a varsity student and said it took some convincing to get him to commit to the decathlon.
"It has been a rather new experience for me," he said. "Previously, I hadn't done much in the way of afterschool activities or anything like that and I did not think I would be spending most of my junior year in this classroom.
"I've come to realize it's actually not so bad at all. It could have been much worse."
He said this year's theme -- Latin America with a focus on Mexico -- has been fascinating to learn about.
Each year, a different theme is selected and students are required to verse themselves on a broad range of knowledge connected to that theme.
Students are tested in seven areas -- economics, art, language and literature, math, music, social science and Super Quiz -- and also are required to give prepared and impromptu speeches, sit for an interview and write an essay.
Clymer, 18, said studying Latin America has given her new insight on Mexico.
"I like that I understand more about the history of Mexico. They are only 90 miles south of us and I didn't know too much about their history or current economic situation, but now I feel like I have an understanding of why our relationship with them is the way it is," she said.
Clymer will attend the University of Virginia in the fall.
She and her teammates are honest about their chances at nationals.
Competition from California and Wisconsin schools is expected to be tough so the team will be happy falling somewhere within the top three.
"That would be a real thrill," Yetman said.
Odyssey of the Mind Finals
Academic Decathlon isn't the only successful academic team on the Canyon del Oro campus.
The school also boasts two teams that will travel to Iowa State University in late May to compete at the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals.
Odyssey of the Mind is a problem-solving competition in which participants use their creativity to solve a problem.
Canyon del Oro's Classics team finished in first place at the state contest earlier this month to qualify for the World Finals.
That team consists of Jimmy Sonnefeld, Texana Sonnefeld, Dion Heimink, Victoria Heimink, Michael Schmitt and Emma Merry.
The high school's Structure team, which includes Kathryn Hilton, Daniel Hilton, Emily Ralston, Timur Beketov, Michael Phillips and Sheridan Gibson, secured second place at state and earned a spot at the world finals.
Painted Sky Elementary School, 12620 N. Woodburne Ave., will send its Technical Problem team to the World Finals.
Painted Sky and Canyon del Oro are both in the Amphitheater Public Schools district.
The Technical Problem team was awarded first place at the state finals.
The team consists of fifth-graders Drake Sheber, Chandler Barteau, Clayton Whiteside, Austin Reinhold, Patrick Negrete, Ben Roberts and fourth-grader Brian Heritage.
"They started out as complete individuals, but they've become this amazing team, almost like brothers," volunteer coach Laurie Sheber said.
Sheber is Drake's mother and also teaches at Painted Sky.
The team's task was to build a mechanical device -- they opted to construct a movable pig -- and perform an eight-minute skit that centered around the pig.
Their pig, which they call "The Pig," had to do five things -- soar, fly, shake its head, eat and litter.
The seven-person team also had to write the skit, build a set -- complete with props -- and make their own costumes.
"You have to make the stuff and you can't have your parents help you make stuff," Clayton said.
The students aren't allowed to solicit any outside assistance.
Parents Lisa Reinhold and Michelle Heritage also volunteer as coaches, but like Clayton said, they are mostly there to provide supervision.
"I can't even guess how many hours that they have put into this, but it has paid off," Sheber said.
In their skit, the boys dress as different junk foods and get "The Pig" to snack on unhealthy foods and encourage the animal to throw the wrappers on the ground.
"The Pig" is guided by a red apple.
The boys' message is that bad eating habits will get you nowhere and littering will harm the environment.
Participating in Odyssey of the Mind has allowed the boys to find their creativity and to learn how to work with other people.
"You should listen to other people's ideas because they might be more creative than the idea you have," Chandler said.
Added Austin: "We have to work as a team and not be the only one with all of the answers."
Some of the boys were on a team that competed in the World Finals in 2007, where they finished in the top 30. The team competed last year, but only reached state competition.
This might be their year to make a splash at finals.
"We know we are a pretty good team so we like to show our stuff," Austin said.
FW students go to History Day
Students in the Flowing Wells Unified School District will take center stage in June when they take part in the National History Day Contest.
Two teams -- one each from Centennial Elementary School and Flowing Wells Junior High School -- will participate in the competition, which will be held at the University of Maryland.
Junior high students Mindi Jones and Gabbi Martin will compete in the Web site category. They qualified for the national contest by finishing in second place at the state contest earlier this month.
The content on their Web site, which isn't published, highlights Mary Colter, an architect who designed Fred Harvey Hotels for the Grand Canyon and the Santa Fe Railroad.
Coach Mary DeStefano, a retired Flowing Wells teacher, said she likes her students to pick a topic relevant to Arizona.
DeStefano also mentors the Centennial performance team that captured first place at the state contest. Anjanette Guerrero, Vivianna Betancourt, Savanna Bejarano and Britteny Broom make up that team.
The girls will perform a play about Emery and Ellsworth Kolb. The brothers were early Grand Canyon pioneers who ran a photography business on the South Rim.
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