By Monique Harrison

Daily Journal

CLINTON - Relief.

That was the first emotion to sweep over the nine-member Tupelo High School Academic Decathlon team Saturday afternoon when awards were announced at the end of state competition.

"We weren't sure we were going to win and so we were worried," said team member Annie Robinson. "But the individual awards were being announced, and we kept hearing, 'Tupelo High, Tupelo High.' It was a good feeling to keep hearing our school's name being announced. We finally realized we had to have been the overall winner. Everyone was jumping up and down. We couldn't stop smiling. It was great."

Saturday's win at Mississippi College in Clinton was the 11th consecutive State Academic Decathlon Championship for the school.

The first-place finish is their ticket to national competition, which will be held in Atlanta in April.

Tupelo finished with a relatively comfortable 2,000-point margin of victory over second-placed Clinton. Jackson Preparatory finished third in the game-show-style competition that is designed to test students' knowledge of nine subject areas.

Senior Brandon Ashcraft racked up the most points in the event to finish first in the overall individual competition. Three of Ashcraft's teammates also placed in the top 10.

Junior Adam Lubin placed second, while classmate Sarah Robinson came in sixth. Bryant Hill, the only student returning from last year, placed ninth.

Ashcraft took home four other individual medals. He claimed a gold in science, silvers in language/literature and fine arts and a bronze in social studies.

Lubin clinched five medals, including golds in language/literature and social studies. He won silvers in economics, social studies and math.

Senior Jana E. Kellems claimed a bronze in science, while Hill won a silver in social studies. Sara Robinson won a gold medal for her speech, which focused on her father's death from brain cancer.

Annie Robinson received a gold in fine arts.

The team was behind by 300 points after their first round of competition. But their slow start in the math portion of the intensive competition didn't shake them.

"Granted, we were a little concerned through the whole competition - worried we wouldn't continue the tradition," Ashcraft said. "But we knew math was our weak spot and the margin wasn't that large. We knew we could make it up and we did."

The team's two coaches say state championships never get old.

"Every win is just as meaningful because you are with a new group of students," said coach Lynn McAlpin, who has been with the prestigious team for the past seven years. "It's exhilarating for them. It's fun to see their hard work pay off. I'm so glad it did."

Team members, who returned to Tupelo late Saturday after making a long list of calls to parents and other team supporters, plan to take a break from studying for a few days before practices pick up again midweek.

"They're going to be writing a few research papers and catching up in advanced chemistry," McAlpin said, laughing. "Then, it's back to studying."

The ice storm that left Tupelo Public Schools closed for four school days last week may have contributed to the win.

"That ice storm studying paid off," said coach Bonnie Webb. "These kids worked so hard. This is great to see."

Despite school closings, students met for several hours each afternoon at someone's home to study.

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