After being in last place, a Center Grove academic team’s goal of going to state finals seemed lofty.
Last season, Troy Smith, Aaron Estes and Vaughn Knutson, members of Center Grove’s Fine Arts Academic Super Bowl team, placed last in the regional competition. But this year, they still wanted to set their goal high.
“I was just hoping for not last place,” team coach and Center Grove High school teacher Adam Gaff said.
They wanted to make it to the state finals.
So this year, the three seniors started studying for the season during the fall semester, months ahead of their first competition in March. On May 10, they were named state champions during their division’s final competition at Purdue University.
The Indiana Academic Super Bowl’s competition categories include social studies, math, English, science, fine arts and interdisciplinary. Students from Edinburgh Community High School were named state champions in their division in the English category, while a team from Indian Creek High School placed second in their division’s science category.
Center Grove’s three seniors received this year’s list of study materials in the fall, which told them they’d need to know about genres of music from the American West and would have to recognize work by artists including George Catlin, Albert Bierstadt and Karl Bodmer.
They started studying immediately, spending a lot of time at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis so the students could learn as many details as possible about the artists and music.
Spending that time together was a big reason why the three friends joined the team.
Smith has been on the fine arts team since his sophomore year. Last year, after some of the team’s members graduated, he recruited his friends Estes and Knutson.
At first, the pair were hesitant about joining the team.
“Fine arts, Academic Super Bowl, doesn’t sound fun,” Estes said.
But Smith persuaded them to join — if nothing else, for the chance to hang out and have fun during their weekly study sessions.
Super bowl teams receive a list of topics to study, similar to a syllabus, at the start of the school year. The team competes in an invitational in March before moving on to a regional competition in April. Last year, the team placed last at regional.
“I didn’t tell (them) because I didn’t need to relive that moment for myself,” Gaff said.
After last season, Smith, Estes and Knutson drafted their goal for this season: They would make it to state. And this time, Estes and Knutson would know what to expect.
At the academic competition, the students were shown bits of art or listened to audio samples of music, usually for between 20 and 50 seconds.
Then, they had a few seconds to confer before answering specific questions about how they could identify the artist or what was unique about the musician’s work.
Once Smith, Estes and Knutson made it to state, they simply wanted to advance as far as they could. The students and their coach were shocked when they were named champions.
“They not only achieved their goal, they exceeded their goal. And that’s what every coach wants to have happen,” Gaff said.