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Academic Decathlon Team Reflects on National Rank

The Taylor High School Academic Decathlon team finished the school year ranked third in Texas and third in the United States. Long known for their high achievements, the current team and their coach, Vicki Rowe, recently took a moment to reflect on their national ranking, and the long-standing tradition of success that continues today.


“I was the first to know (the results) because I had shown up in the morning for an AP test, and Ms. Rowe had texted me and said she would be there and she had something to talk to me about,” said team member Jaden Rush. “I was obviously very nervous because I thought we had performed badly. But when I showed up, she was waiting outside the library for me with a massive smile on her face and she told me we had placed third at nationals. It was a great feeling.”


The topic for this year’s competition was The American Revolution and the Founding of the Nation. The local scholars had thought their season was over after bringing home the state bronze medal. Then AcDec officials notified them that their scores actually qualified them for national competition, and the close-knit group began preparing for their next big win.


When asked about their secret for success, team members shared favorite memories of close friendships, intense study, and food inspired practices at Rowe’s house.


“The practices at Ms. Rowe’s were really good for team bonding,” said Lluvia Allen-Correa. “We would all huddle together and read parts of our curriculum, go over questions that we might think about, and we might go over speeches together. It was super great at forming the team and getting everyone really comfortable with each other.”


Scholars recalled Rowe’s cooking as an effective incentive to attend every practice, citing vegan lasagna and crack chicken among their favorites.


“I’ve always heard about the legendary food that Ms. Rowe serves at her practices,” said Anna McCulloch. “I finally made the team my senior year and the food was amazing. I love her food and I love her cooking, but I loved the idea that this is the food that the ACDEC team eats.”


Rowe describes winning the regional gold medal early in the season as a pivotal success for the team, ending Bandara’s six-year winning streak and providing the Taylor scholars with serious goals for state competition. She also credits the team’s dedication as a significant factor to this year’s overall success.


They were willing to put in long practices and dedicate their time to truly reading and studying,” said Rowe. “Some of my seniors also stayed during 8th period, which they had off, in order to also attend the after-school practices. They were spending numerous hours at practice each day before and after school, weekends, and during their vacation time readying themselves for competition. Their willingness to learn this particularly difficult curriculum is testimony to their perseverance, and I am so proud of them for enduring through the rigor of preparing for national competition.” 


When asked to choose one word to describe this year’s AcDec experience, each scholar gave specific reasons for the words they chose.


“Impactful,” said Zane Talavera. “I’ve always looked at the banners that are in Mrs. Rowe’s room and always thought how great would it be to actually win one of those one day and to be part of the reason why there is another banner in her room. So, this year was impactful.”


“Satisfying,” said Anna McCulloch. “After four years of academic decathlon, going from not making the team for three years to making the team to making it all the way to nationals, it’s feels like all of the hard work was really worth it.”


“Iconic,” said Kenny Calvo. “Because every one of the team members is iconic in my mind. They are cool in their own way and have their own personality that shines and creates the team.”


“Surprising,” said Collin McGinnis. “Seeing that I had actually done decently at regional, state and nationals was really cool. I would go into Ms. Rowe’s classroom every day at lunch and say, ‘Hey, Mrs. Rowe, have you found out the scores yet?’ We had gone through a week of thinking that we were done with AcDec, so hearing that we made 3rd was pretty surprising.”


“Surreal,” said Jaden Rush. “Around this time last year, I was signing up for AcDec class for the first time ever. When I made the team, I literally became a member of another family, and it was super fun to go through these adventures with the people around me. Going to nationals and placing, it was super surreal. I didn’t know a year ago that I would have so many more friends and would have gone through so much with them and actually accomplish something.”


“This year was so liberating,” said Lluvia Allen-Correa. “I thought the team was going to do good, we usually do good. Mrs. Rowe is a very good coach. She makes sure we all do our best and try our hardest. She tries very hard for all of us so we try hard for her as well. I’m just kind of surprised at how far we were able to get. I felt like that was a good way to end senior year. I’m finally going to be free from high school and I ended on such a good note.”


“Inspiring,” said Gabriella Howell. “I didn’t want to do ACDEC at first, but I ended up sticking with it for Ms. Rowe. I ended up with some medals and scholarship money and decided to do it another year because I ended up really liking it. I don’t think I would have gone through with it if it wasn’t for Mrs. Rowe. I think she has inspired a lot of people who don’t realize how smart they are until they do AcDec. I don’t think any of us would have done as well as we did without Mrs. Rowe’s encouragement.”


“Bittersweet,” said Sam Brown. “I had to make the choice on whether to do AcDec or region band, and I went with AcDec. I never thought the experience would have been this good, and I wouldn’t have gotten any closer to this group of people. I’m really glad that I made that choice and this whole experience is just bittersweet.”


“Spectacular,” said Sami Pike-Hegar. “Bandara had an 8-year (winning)streak. Bandara is our rival. And we beat them, regional and state.”


Rowe’s furry canine friend Tessa became an honorary member of the team, providing emotional support during the highly focused practices.


“Tessa definitely misses all of the attention she received from this year's team members,” said Rowe. “The scholars shared so many beautiful and touching photos of her, some with them in the photos and others that just captured her happiness being with them. Many weekend days and some nights, Tessa still sits looking at the front door waiting for them to arrive. Tessa is our team's loyal mascot, a position that she holds dear, I am sure.”


While scholars agree that Tessa played a valuable role in preparing the team for success, they credit Coach Vicki Rowe for developing them into the nationally recognized team they are today.


Taylor Academic Decathlon would not be a thing if it wasn’t for Mrs. Rowe,” said Talavera. “I want to give a big huge tremendous shout-out on behalf of all of us to Mrs. Rowe. She really is like the motor of our team. We are all the little parts, but she’s the motor that keeps the whole team running.”


Rowe’s pride in her scholars is evident as she talks about the team’s success, their hard work, and the reputation they have earned throughout the state.


“We ended Bandera's six-year winning streak,” said Rowe. “Prior to that, our team was the one to beat for so many. Even through those last six years, our team retained the respect of other teams across the state, and I take great pride in our school's reputation in Texas Academic Decathlon. We are always "a force to be reckoned with."