• This Is Rutherford

The Academic Decathlon's Road to the National Competition

By Jennifer Ersalesi

Photo credits: Jason Narozny


The Rutherford High School Academic Decathlon Team will represent NJ at the National Competition in April after winning back-to-back State Competitions. The National Competition will be virtual and will take place in April. This is now the 4th state championship in the RHS Academic Decathlon team's history.


This is Rutherford interviewed the Academic Decathlon Team Advisor, Mr. Jason Narozy, RHS English Teacher, as well as three of the AD team members, Kayleigh Griffin, Erica Chen, and Sami Abuauad.

Yassyra Gonzalez, Michael Kaufman, Madeline Sawicz, Zen Castaneda, Olivia Michalski, Kayleigh Griffin, Erica Chen, Sami Abuauad, Mia Olivo, Kara Brennan, Kia Parikh, Jade Recio, Nico Shumacher, Amelia Perlmutter

TIR: When did you begin working with this Academic Decathlon Team?

Jason Narozny: We started organizing and planning in May last year, they began studying over the summer, then we started our regular meetings in late August.

TIR: This has been another incredible season for the AD team. The team won two back-to-back state championships and brought home over 45 awards in the last state competition. To what do you attribute these successes?

JN: Thankfully, over the years my teams have helped establish a culture of success that gets passed down to each successive team. But each new member has to want to take on that level of responsibility. They have to want to take pride in learning the information. You don’t get a grade for AD, so each member must find a different, more personal motivation to want to do well.

TIR: How do you help prepare the students for the competitions?

JN: I teach what I can, and get help from other teachers when needed. But I also want the team to take ownership of the activity. Ideally, they should get to the point where they can teach some concepts to each other, which they did this year. Other than that, it’s all about reading, reviewing, and reinforcing.

TIR: This is the 4th state championship the AD has won. Do you have any students who have been on the team for the past four years?

JN: Just to clarify, the first two championships were in 2009 and 2010. None of them have been on for 4 years. However, Kara Brennan and Sami Abuauad have been on the team for 3 years, all of which have qualified for Nationals.


TIR: What was most remarkable about this year’s team?

JN: Nobody would have blamed us for not winning this year given that only 4 students returned from last year’s team. (Most of the others graduated.) Everyone else was new! So, to have what is essentially a rookie team win a championship shows you how driven this team is. It was incredible to witness their hard work pay off.

Sami Abuauad, Yassyra Gonzalez, Jade Recio, Mia Olivo, Kia Parikh, Kayleigh Griffin, Amelia Perlmutter, Zen Castaneda, Erica Chen, Olivia Michalski, Madeline Sawicz, Michael Kaufman (Not pictured: Kara Brennan, Nico Shumacher)

TIR: How did you and your team prepare for the State Championships?

Kayleigh Griffin (Sophomore): We prepared by rereading and reinforcing our knowledge with practice tests and using the USAD training center website.

Erica Chen (Junior): Our team has been meeting twice a week (for about 2 hours each) to review materials for the competitions, creating and going over outlines, taking practice tests together, and teaching each other. Outside of meetings, we put time into reading each resource guide, reviewing with Training Center (which has practice tests, flashcards, etc), texting each other about things we're confused about, and creating outlines that we share with the entire team.

Sami Abuauad (Senior): We made sure to conquer as many subjects as possible, gave it our all when it came to outlining, studying, and annotating the texts to get the best understanding of the subjects.


TIR: Which categories did you feel the most confident about?

KG: I felt the most confident in literature because the questions are memory-based and I'm pretty good with recognition of facts.

EC: I was personally most confident about my interview, literature, history, and science.

SA: I feel most confident in Art History, Interview, and speech. I tend to score my highest in those categories.


TIR: Which category was the most challenging?

KG: The most challenging category for me was definitely science because it was a lot of tedious name recognition.

EC: The most challenging category for me was possibly economics or math (statistics), though I was also a little nervous about my speech because of my slight fear of public speaking.

SA: Econ is the most dense yet most interesting category but has always been a challenge to me in the Academic decathlon throughout the years.


TIR: How will you prepare for the National competition?

KG: For the National competition I am going to look at flashcards, take more practice tests and try to re-read the guides.

EC: We, as a team, will continue to meet and review topics for nationals, designating "experts" to review each subject during meetings. I personally also want to focus on subjects I scored well in, but could still improve on, such as art and my speech.

SA: I will prepare to excel in my weaker subjects to make sure I score higher overall to bring the team home with some bonus points that I missed out on in States.


TIR: How many years have you been on the AD team?

KG: This is my first year!

EC: I've been on AcDec for two seasons, the last year's and this year's, and I plan to stay on the team next year as well. My first season on the team started at the end of my freshmen year.

SA: Three


TIR: What do you enjoy most about being part of this team?

KG: I enjoy it because I like learning new things and everyone is really kind and fun to be around!

EC: One of the best things about this team is how much of a family we've become over time. It genuinely amazes me how hardworking and motivated everyone is, and the personal connections, inside jokes, and memories we've created over the season are what I believe to be the most important takeaways of AcDec. We're there for each other and step in when someone needs a break or even just some help, and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know them.

SA: Making friends, learning more in-depth about interesting topics, creating inside jokes together, and the Bulldog pride that comes with winning.


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