The Other Top Team At Boulder Creek

Sunday 6.8.2014 @ 11:56am | ImagesAZ | Youth

Photo Credit: Pogue Photography

With determination and focus, they have spent hours honing their skills. They’ve studied their competition’s strengths and weakness, and formed strategies to win. They’ve developed a strong sense of teamwork, and with long afternoons and evenings of practice, their natural abilities have been sharpened into championship material. Now, this winning Boulder Creek team of nine has shattered records and represented the Jaguars well.


They may not all look like typical athletes, but don’t be fooled: these students are competitors. Cameron Moreno, Sean Wurr, Elias Skoubis, Nick Goettl, Josh Kim, Grant Peterson, Chris Balzer, Nate Raffield and Christian Beem are members of the BC academic decathlon team, and they crunch math for breakfast.


These outstanding decathletes can rattle off facts and information about music, art, literature, economics, social science, mathematics and science that would impress any college professor; they can put together memorable speeches and essays in under an hour; and they can interview on the fly with pizzazz. In fact, this particular team is so good that, not only have they taken state honors, they’re now ranked sixth in the nation.


Like other competitive sports, academic decathlon team members begin preparing for competition long before they ever face another team. They take quizzes and study large amounts of material, not only to memorize facts, but also to critically analyze the topics and gain a full understanding of the concepts they learn. They learn to be better test-takers and stronger thinkers, and they learn about ideas they may otherwise never have been exposed to.


Senior Sean Wurr has competed in academic decathlon for two years now, and clearly found his niche on the team. He placed top in his overall division in state competition and fifth in the nation at the United States Academic Decathlon competition in Honolulu, Hawaii April 24-26.


Wurr’s dry humor and quick wit sets a fast-moving, fun conversation pace full of anecdotes and musings. It is clear he’s an ace in his sport, and like any accomplished athlete, his self-analysis is keen.


“In academic decathlon, you can’t just be good at one thing; you have to be good at everything,” he explains in a way that is neither boastful nor self-deprecating. “It shapes well-rounded individuals.”


He also likes pushing his own limits through the team. “Academic decathlon is the one thing you can’t just get by with because you’re smart. It’s the one thing you have to actually study for to do well,” he says.


The academic decathlon program, run by 16-year veteran teacher Elizabeth Erickson, has been building talent for over a decade, but this is a record year. The Jaguars team earned the regional championship title in February, then placed second out of 40 teams in the state competition shortly afterward. The loss was heartbreaking: they scored just one point behind four-time state champs, Oro Valley’s Canyon del Oro High School (CDO) despite Chris Balzer earning the highest overall scores in the state.


The team avenged their loss in Hawaii, however, by edging CDO out by nearly 450 points and taking sixth place to CDO’s seventh place honors.


In individual categories, BC students also did well. Cameron Moreno and Chris Balzer took top awards in the art category; Balzer and Wurr medaled in music; Wurr took home honors in the speech division; and Balzer and Nick Goettl scored exceptionally in the social science category.


Erickson says she couldn’t be more proud of her students. “Every one of them is willing to learn,” she says. “They want to learn; they want to succeed. They’re all so driven, and it’s all self-motivated. They did this for themselves.”


“I’m hoping that this year is the springboard for kids at Boulder Creek to join the ranks of the top teams in the academic decathlon,” says Wurr. “We’re the forerunners, and we’re passing on our wisdom to a new generation of academic decathlon competitors.”


At Boulder Creek, students can elect to take academic decathlon as a class. This year, Erickson taught two academic decathlon classes, with a total of 57 students taking part. After poring over hundreds of pages of material, each class held scrimmage tournaments, and the top three students in each class, slotted into divisions based on GPA, were chosen to compete in the regional competition.


The BC nine smoked the regional competition for the first time in the program’s 10-year history, then went on to do remarkably well at the state and national competitions.


One of the biggest hurdles the team faced – and is still facing – is financing. The team was tasked with raising over $10,000 to cover the costs of the Hawaii competition, and had to borrow from next year’s fund to cover some of the expenses. They continue to actively raising money so that next year’s coffers aren’t short the money needed to continue their roll.


“Donors can still apply tax credits to the academic decathlon program, and they can give through the DVUSD website,” Erickson says.


As for the students, competing on an award-winning team is of great benefit to them. Each is guaranteed a $2,000 scholarship to an Arizona state college, and their distinction earns them brownie points toward other scholarships and college admissions. That money will come in handy for students like Wurr, who have big plans for the future.


“I plan to go into chemical engineering and biophysics at ASU. I’d like to be a bioengineering tycoon,” he says without pause.


In addition, the friendships and camaraderie students build is priceless. “It’s about solidarity,” Wurr says.


Erickson looks at him with a grin, clearly enjoying his outspoken confidence. Wurr looks back at her with a wry smile, and her grin widens, knowing she’s going to hear a zinger. “We’re the best thing she’s ever had,” he says. “And that’s just based off of personality and good looks alone – and charm.”


ImagesAZ congratulates the Boulder Creek academic decathlon team on their regional, state and national success. We wish you all the best in your promising futures.