The stakes were high for the Oakcrest High School Academic Team at the Egg Harbor Township High School Academic Triathlon on Feb. 6.

Chaz Wyckoff, a math teacher at Oakcrest and a new co-adviser for its Academic Team this year, gave his group an ultimatum.

"We didn't have a choice," said senior Ciara Windsor. "He was like, 'You guys can either walk home or win.'"

Whether the math teacher had plans to follow through on his threat, the Falcons will never know. Oakcrest bested the 15-school field with 620 points out of about 1,000 possible, putting them 60 points ahead of the second place team.

The Academic Triathlon, as its name would suggest, is split into three rounds, each of them focusing on a single subject. On Feb. 6, Oakcrest was tested on its knowledge of the humanities, math and science, and pop culture and sports. Each round consists of about 30 open-ended short answer questions, each worth 10 points, which the four-member teams were given twenty seconds to answer.

Oakcrest's seven team members, who subbed in and out depending on their expertise, were Windsor, Nick Murphy, Ted Price, James Townley, Schuyler DeVos, Cole Smith and Kim Paxton.

While the team ultimately came away with a comfortable victory, it didn't always appear they were headed for the win. After a frustrating first round, Oakcrest was only in third place. After a speech from Wyckoff, the team rallied, surging in the second round to a 40 point lead, which it only extended in the third.

Despite their impressive showing, Paxton said she and her teammates felt they didn't perform as well as they could have.

"We see the amount we got right and we're thinking, that number could be so much higher," Paxton said. "At the end of the round you think of all the questions you could have gotten right, because either someone said the answer or didn't put it down, or just dumb things like that."

While Wyckoff is new to the Academic Team scene, Oakcrest also has some veteran leadership in business and computers teacher Chris Sopuch, who has been the group's adviser for 15 years.

Though ostensibly an academic counterpart to typical interscholastic competitions like sports, Sopuch said, contests like the Academic Triathlon also offer students a venue in which to interact with like-minded students from throughout the region.

"They sit down and interact with the kids on the other teams and they're inspired," Sopuch said. "It really creates a great environment for the kids to network and communicate and things like that."

Of the students who traveled to EHTHS on Feb. 6, all but Paxton are seniors, meaning next year's team will be mostly fresh faces.

But while the team may be losing its veterans, it also has some studs in the pipeline, some of whom attended the Academic Triathlon. The more experienced members occasionally give their underclassman counterparts a hard time, Wyckoff said, but they're also willing to take the younger students under their wings.

He's excited about the future.

"It's nice to see them do well and everything, but also to kind of help mold the younger class," Wyckoff said. "I see the mentoring roles they're taking with the younger students. It's really awesome to see."

The Oakcrest Academic Team will next compete at Buena Regional High School on March 13.

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