Every week local newspapers laud high school athletes in their sports pages, replete with photos, quotes and stats. They are the BMOC and BWOC on most campuses, the kids others look up to. I don't mean to steal their thunder, but wouldn't it be wonderful if academic stars got equal attention? In Josephine County, we've had a program to elevate academic stars for 28 years running.
The program is called Academic Masters and began in 1984 when local businesses lamented that academics lacked glamour and publicity. Partnering with the two school districts in the county, an academic competition was born, awarding cash prizes to the top competitors in each of five categories: Math, Science, English, Social Studies and Music. Teachers designed the competition within the parameters set by businesses.
"Just like I used to leave Heater-Newman Gymnasium wanting to be like Caveman basketball players, I used to leave Academic Masters' competitions wanting to be a Hong."Bryce WardGrants Pass High SchoolSocial Studies Master 1994
Over the years, 550 students in the final competition have won a share of over $300,000, all donated locally. So far as we know, there is nothing like it anywhere else. But there should be.
"Even after graduating from Reed College, notorious for its academic rigor, I still feel that Academic Masters was one of the most challenging educational experiences of my life. Having a venue in Josephine County for the public celebration of academic excellence is invaluable."Rachel PerkinsIllinois Valley High SchoolEnglish Master 1995
At each of our four high schools, any interested students sign up for written tests in any of the five subject areas. Teachers design and score the in-school tests. The top three to five scorers become semi-finalists. Semi-finalists compete in a public competition at their schools. The event mimics the final competition with each having 30 minutes to prepare an answer to a subject area question, then walking onto the stage and delivering their answer and explanation to the audience and a panel of judges. Music competitors perform a piece instead of answering a question. The judges evaluate their answers, combine the oral and written scores, and select the five finalists from the school. These are announced at the end of the competition. All students who will not be moving on to the final competition receive a $25 check. The school competitions take place in March.
In April, finalists travel to Rogue Community College where professors in each subject area have prepared comprehensive written exams. The professors score the exams (keeping results secret) and also attend the public Final Competition to judge students' oral answers. On that evening, teachers, administrators, parents and fellow students pack the room to watch their schools' competitors and cheer on their "team". Oral questions are often designed to engage the audience.
"In a world where we acknowledge and idolize rock stars and athletes, to have a different set of aspirations can be lonely. The Academic Masters competition heralded the success of intellectual competition and was a benchmark for me throughout my developmental years. I attended Academic Masters from 5th grade through high school, creating role models for me of the Hongs, Jake Loomis, etc."David SelingerGrants Pass High SchoolMath Master 1995 & 1996
Academic Masters winners are heralded with a traveling trophy, local news coverage, events at the schools and recognition in the programs of every future competition. There are AM heroes who are remembered in the community for winning multiple years or in multiple subjects, family dynasties that reigned for a few years and winners from the smallest school who earn special distinction at their school.
"The Academic Masters program is one of the best opportunities available to students in Josephine County. I strongly believe it represents the best of what makes Josephine County so unique in the level of its dedication to its students."Dana Ponte JansenNorth Valley High SchoolEnglish Master 1998
For the first 18 years of the competition, a small group of businesses contributed $10,000 in annual prize money. Gradually key donors retired or moved, businesses changed and we faced a crisis in 2002. The competition was in debt with insufficient income on the horizon. Retired and current educators and community and business leaders stepped forward, forming the Academic Masters Foundation to revive the competition. Through an annual solicitation, careful stewardship of a growing endowment and payroll deduction from school staffs, the Foundation has increased the awards and begun ensuring long-term stability for the competition. We now award $1200 to each of the five first-place winners, $800 for second places, $500 for third and $300 for fourth place winners. Twenty students walk away that night with cash awards.
"Financially Academic Masters helped me to go to college and intellectually it prepared me for a life as a thinker and writer about the challenges that face our world and our communities."Scott VogelHidden Valley High SchoolSocial Studies Master 1995
Why Not Your Community?
If AM sounds like something you'd like to see in your community, let us know! We'd love to see Academic Masters grow beyond Josephine County, engaging businesses, individuals, schools and students everywhere. Bringing elementary and middle school students to the competition will trigger their dreams of becoming Academic Masters too.
Academic heroes? Why not!
"Academic Masters is a great way to show students in our local schools that our community values excellence in education. The monetary awards allow us to spotlight those students that are outstanding and send a strong message to all students that getting a good education will benefit them throughout their lives."Brady AdamsPresidentEvergreen Federal Bank