Local heroes: South’s academic team advances to state

HARLINGEN — They did it.

For the first time in more than 10 years, the Harlingen South Academic Decathlon Team has advanced to the state competition after becoming regional champions last month in Corpus Christi.

“We are excited to finally get to state,” said Rolando Salazar, 17, one of seven students who competed in the Texas Region III Meet last month.

Their success qualified them to be one of 40 schools from throughout the state to pit their academic talents in the Large School – Division I State Meet to be held Feb. 22-25 in San Antonio.

“Our team worked so hard,” said Sarah Ramos, 18. “We started thinking about it in August and ever since then we’ve been brainstorming ideas.”

The students showed their strengths in numerous disciplines, including math, music, art and economics. Many of the events focused on their knowledge of Africa.

“We studied art from Africa, music from Africa,” Sarah added. “We read a book by Chinua Achebe; it’s just about his life in Africa.”

The book, added Ariana Nelson, was called “Things Fall Apart.”

“It’s about a man and his life and his village,” said Ariana, 17. “It goes into how women in his village are treated and the relationships in the village.”

Of course, it wasn’t all about Africa. They all had to write and deliver speeches on various topics.

“We got to choose whatever topic we wanted to talk about,” Sarah said. “I talked about emotional support animals. Other people talked about history and music.”

They spent the past few months practicing and testing each other on this and other events, including the length of the speeches.

“We were practicing to time it at four minutes,” Sarah said. “The speech has to be three minutes and thirty seconds to four minutes. If you go over four minutes, your points are docked. We had to perfect that.”

They also worked on their interview skills for another event. The students pooled their separate strengths to create a winning steam.

“Each of us had our own interests in Africa, our different specialties,” Rolando said.

One of the coaches, Caitlin Bruceth, congratulated them on their success.

“I’m proud of them,” she said. “This is the first time in a decade we’ve made it to state. That speaks to how dedicated they are.”

And so the march continues, with the next triumph possibly awaiting them in San Antonio.