Dear Decaturish – Decatur High should acknowledge accomplishments of all students

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt May 19, 2016
The front steps of Decatur High School. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

The front steps of Decatur High School. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

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Dear Decaturish,

On Wednesday, May 18, Decatur High School adopted a special schedule that allowed for the presentation of a special ceremony celebrating the victories of several teams at the high school- the boy’s soccer team for their state championship, and Sam Ellis for his individual track state titles in the 800M and the 1600M, and the robotics team on their state championship. Additionally, May 19th was officially named ‘Decatur Championship Day.’ The celebration was part of a wider movement to create a sense of involvement and community-wide celebration in Decatur, something I definitely support; however, something bothered me about the celebration.

Since I’ve come to the high school, I’ve competed with the Academic Bowl team, and each year, we’ve returned with multiple trophies, many of which were first place awards at the state-level. However, we’ve never gotten public recognition. For the most part, it’s never really bothered me (and I think it doesn’t really matter to the rest of the team that much either), but for the first time in a long time, the school was brought together today to celebrate state championships.

It was a surprising note to see the Robotics Team (Global Dynamics) honored at such a high level- not only did they get to sit on the gym floor with the athletes, but they even received a large ovation by the entire school. Our principal went up for an introduction. She mentioned how the Quizbowl team competed on High Q, and how we were going to compete at the nationals. She mentioned that we had several students go to All-State Chorus and Band. But the folks who got to sit in the middle, and in the front, were the athletes.

Now as an athlete myself (though not state champion material), it’s not that I have any issue with the celebration of our athletes. In fact, I think it’s really great that we were able to bring the community together to rally over the victories that our school teams experienced as a result of their hard work and dedication. But what does it say that we simply glazed over the accomplishments of the Quizbowl team and our student musicians?

To me it says that our movement to improve community involvement and mutual celebration is mostly restricted to athletics. For the most part, I think the Robotics team was recognized because they are going to the World Championships, but being that there is no national championship for robotics, and that there is no international championship for Quizbowl, it seems to me like the levels of achievement are relatively on par between these two extracurricular activities which compete in “intellectual pursuits.” I imagine that if the Quizbowl team had been able to go to an international competition, we too would have been recognized in the same way, but we can’t, and so we weren’t.

I think the main issue is that there is an inequality when it comes to how we value various aspects of our school and community. The soccer team’s accomplishments are incredibly commendable, and Sam Ellis is a really hard working athlete. The robotics team definitely deserves the recognition it got. However, I think that the student musicians deserve the same level of recognition. I think the Quizbowl deserves the same level of recognition. I think that the school magazine staff should be recognized for the national awards they win. They at least get a post on the school website when they come back from their National Scholastic Press Association conferences with a trophy or two.

It’s not that the administration is incapable of recognizing these students publicly by name in front of the community. We don’t keep the rosters for these things confidential, our students don’t go to the All-State chorus anonymously. It’s a choice that the administration, the PTSO, and the community are making- and to me it’s a problem. I never had an issue with not being recognized before- after all, we had won so much before, even gone to nationals in middle school, that victories throughout the school year seemed trivial. But now I’m noticing a solid disparity in the way that we recognize students for their accomplishments.

A couple of friends of mine were discussing in class the other day how they felt that it was important that the school really focus their attention around sports. They thought that if the school rallied around the teams, they would get more money from ticket sales, we would be able to hire more and/or better coaching staff, as well as purchase better equipment, and eventually, this would lead to many, many more state championships.

In my opinion, I think if we fail to recognize the successes of our community in both intellectual and artistic pursuits, then we are failing as a community. We’re telling our kids that their hard work- mastering a musical piece, crafting the next sculpture that could one day end up in a museum, even slowly memorizing the encyclopedia- will always be valued less to the entire community than the kid next to them who was born with the right set of genes to be a talented athlete. I don’t think that our athletes don’t work hard to get where they are, but everyone else works hard too, and we’re failing to recognize them.

The issue extends beyond just the way that we make our students feel about the recognition of their accomplishments. When we specifically make our large public recognitions about athletics, we are reinforcing the same policies that divert funding from our academics and arts programs in favor of our athletics programs. Additionally, it reinforces the social attitude that the jocks are the “cool” kids.

We can’t let this happen Decatur. We can’t tell our kids that they’re less important than their peers. We must take a holistic approach to community celebration.

– Eric Broner, student

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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