New Waukesha West academic decathlon coach tries to maintain perspective

Ricco doesn't want to put extra pressure on students as team goes for 12th straight state title

Matt Thaviphon studies math before last year's state decathlon competition.The school's decathlon team will be again be participating in the state competition this weekend in the Wisconsin Dells.

Matt Thaviphon studies math before last year's state decathlon competition.The school's decathlon team will be again be participating in the state competition this weekend in the Wisconsin Dells.

March 12, 2013

When Waukesha West won its first of 11 straight state academic decathlon titles, most of the current group of students were either just starting their education or had not yet entered a classroom.

Studying and test-taking wasn't instilled in these 5- or 6 year-olds quite yet.

But that's what these students are passionate about now. And they're passionate about having West continue its winning ways at state, which takes place Thursday and Friday at the Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells.

First-year coach Vince Ricco, however, wants to maintain perspective.

"Every time you do something like this you want to win, but if we think about building a legacy you would go insane," Ricco said. "You have to be super focused because there's 10 events that make up the whole competition.

"So I tell my kids that it's good to win and to do your best but if you can't accept that you could lose then you shouldn't be competing and bad behavior could come out of it."

However, he's finding it difficult to keep their minds from the past, one that includes a national championship in 2002 and top-five finishes at the national academic decathlon every year.

"The big thing I've seen is that they see it as a continuation as a legacy and that's too much pressure," Ricco said. "They're not the squad from 2002 and they're not even the squad from last year. You have to be in the moment. If you're not, you're going to lose some valuable perspective."

The competition consists of seven written tests (economics, language and literature, music, science, art, mathematics and social science) centered around the theme of Russia.

"They become a renaissance man or woman," Ricco said.

Students also partake in a four-minute prepared speech, a 1.5 to 2-minute impromptu speech, an interview as well as the Super Quiz, which includes both a written test and a relay.

The super quiz relay is the only event open to the public. The essay test writing portion of the competition, with a theme of space exploration, took place two weeks ago at each school.

A state title would send the Wolverines to their 12th consecutive national competition, which takes place April 25 to 27 in Minneapolis, Minn.

West took a respectable fourth last year and was the top team among Division II teams. Divisions are based on a school's enrollment.

If West gets to that level once again, it'll have to get past New Berlin Eisenhower, a squad that has edged the Wolverines in its regional the past two years. Before state, teams take part in local and regional competitions.

Last year, West regrouped and toppled Eisenhower to earn the state's automatic berth to nationals.

"I certainly hope that will happen again, but I try to preach to keep the past in the past," Ricco said. "Last year doesn't mean that it will happen again and I don't want them to rely on that. It's comforting knowing it can happen but it's a brand new competition."

The team is broken into three categories of students with twin seniors Thomas and Morgan Redding and Nikhita Chawla in the top honorssection.

Thomas Redding, who scored a perfect 36 on his ACT, set state records in both the economics and mathematics categories last year. And at nationals, Redding's 8,681.8 points were sixth best in the country. Of all the individuals, Redding had the highest mathematics score in the honors category.

However, Ricco said Redding is seeking redemption at state as he didn't medal in his category at regionals.

"Thomas has a ton of potential, but it was a disappointment for him at regionals," Ricco said. "So he's very much looking forward to state."

Another student, Ricco said, with potential to do well at state is Elise Nelton, a gold medalist in the varsity category at regionals. As a senior last year, her sister Emma set two state records in the interview and music categories.

Ricco, an assistant last year, has also been transitioning into a new position after replacing Susan Otto as West's head coach. Otto left West after one year at the helm to become a teacher at a Waukesha charter school.

Otto had replaced Duane Stein, West's longtime academic decathlon coach, who retired after the 2010-11 school year.

In his first year, Ricco credits the help of Lee Schmidt. Schmidt was a former West math teacher and despite being retired, he's still at practices during and after school teaching the decathlon students.

"He comes in on his own time and the kids love him," Ricco said. "And he loves it. He's really what this is all about - a celebration of scholastics."

West decathlon


Nikhita Chawla

Morgan Redding

Thomas Redding


Helen Schultz

Matt Thaviphon

Will Tyndall


Elise Nelton

Jon Cook

Joey Wurm


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