Academic Junior High Decathlon

(Back) Coach Leigh Ulrich, Coach Sister Michael Vincent, Gabe Kruger, Ella Boyle, Sophie Robaina, Kate Jorgensen, Coach Noah Loungarikis, Cara Boyle, Coach Mary Whitfield. (Front) Jack Haas, Ava Shoen, Dakota Presidio, Ellora Hood and Joey Young.


A group of St. Thomas the Apostle’s whiz kids quickly rose to the challenge at the Academic Junior High Decathlon this past spring – and there’s a reason they’re called whiz kids. The teams came in first in logic, second in the super quiz, second in fine arts and third in English/grammar at the regional competition. 

They then took their skills to nationals and placed second in logic against 12 other schools in the virtual competition.

To partake in the decathlon, students were asked to complete a smaller version of the actual test that included religion and logic questions and puzzles. Examples include fill-in-the-blank questions about St. Maximillian Kolbe, St. Therese of Lisieux and riddles like: 

I am tall when I am young.

I am short when I am old.

When I live, I glow.

From your breath, I cease to be.

What am I?

(Answer at end!)

Ten students from St. Thomas participated in ten events. Two were collaborative: a logic quiz and a super quiz. The remaining eight events tested individual knowledge of the Roman Catholic doctrine, English, literature, science, math, current events, social studies and fine arts. 

The super quiz consisted of 50 multiple choice questions and gave students only 15 seconds to respond. The logic portion demanded creative mental gymnastics, as students utilized “left brain” skills for problem-solving and reasoning abilities. Examples were Venn diagrams, anagrams, cryptograms, puzzles and visual-spatial reasoning. 

“What was amazing,” Coach Noah Loungarikis said, “is there were no eighth graders representing our school in the competition [like on the other teams].”

St. Thomas has Loungarikis to thank for bringing students onboard the decathlon experience. A ten-year teaching veteran from Orange County, California, he came well steeped in coaching. 

“This is one of the most enriching programs I have ever been involved in,” Loungarikis said. “What this decathlon does for students is life-changing. Many have never had a venue that rewarded their academic skills.”

These competitions pit the best against the best against each other, according to Loungarikis.

 “It lets these kids shine in the spotlight, something they may not normally have the opportunity to do,” he said.

This event takes a lot of preparation: five hours of team practice a week and two to three hours of studying at home.

“The decathlon is one of the best things I’ve ever done,” sixth-grader Ellora Hood said. “Before, I felt I didn’t have a place to fit in. The decathlon made me feel cool and happy since I met others who felt the same way.” 

Resource materials, which change each year, are vital for decathlon preparation. Fine arts include paintings, music and sculpture, and this year students used “The Arts of Visual Encyclopedia,” a 300-page book geared toward adults. According to Loungarikis, the logic practice questions mirror those used for law school entrance.

[Did you figure out the riddle? The answer is: a candle!]