SCARBOROUGH — Beatrice Braeuer took a sip of her energy drink and cleared her throat for the third time. She still wasn’t ready.
“Can’t someone else just go?” the Scarborough High School senior asked.
Last year, Braeuer placed fourth in her division nationally for the speech portion of the Academic Decathlon, an annual competition that tests teams of students from high schools across the country on seven academic subjects, as well as an essay, an interview and a speech.
At practice on Monday in Room C113, Braeuer stalled for as long as her audience could stand. Once she started, she restarted after every stutter and memory lapse.
“I need to get this right. It needs to be perfect,” Braeuer said.
Just five days before the state competition, her coach, Latin teacher Shane Davis, wasn’t concerned. He knew that, when it mattered, she’d perform.
Scarborough’s Academic Decathlon team has won the state championship nine years in a row and 24 times in the event’s 28-year history. A first-place finish among the 11 teams competing at Deering High School on Saturday would set the school’s record for its longest winning streak.
“There’s that old adage ‘Success breeds success,’ ” Davis offered as an explanation for the team’s longstanding dominance.
When the team wins one year, he said, it passes that expectation along to new members.
Michael Richards, a former member, then coach, of the team in the 1980s and ’90s, guesses there’s probably a lot of pressure.
“I imagine that, for Scarborough today, they don’t want to be the ones to lose it,” said Richards, who will help score the state championship.
A win at the state level means a bid to the national competition, which is held in a different city every year. In the past decade, the Scarborough team has spent spring breaks in San Antonio, Los Angeles, Memphis, Omaha and Minneapolis.
Word got out around school that this year’s championship would be in Honolulu, and it showed on sign-up sheets for the team.
Interest dwindled, however, when the amount of work became apparent. “It becomes sort of self-selective,” Davis said.
The 11 team members who remain are wholly dedicated to learning the material. “No one is here for Hawaii,” said senior Sadie Tirrell.
Braeuer, a B student, is the workhorse of the team. She said she studied as many as five hours a day during February vacation.
There’s Melissa Ertman, the music whiz, and freshman Alec Leng, whom they call the human calculator.
The most successful competitors are well-rounded. Richards, who also served as the state director of the Academic Decathlon, said that’s what drew him in.
“You couldn’t be good in science and not be able to write an essay,” he said. “The competition forced you to develop those skills.”
And it’s not just for one type of student. The rules require each team to represent a range of grade point averages, but at the semi-weekly practices, it’s not apparent who’s who.
While Leng fiddled with a Rubik’s Cube, two of his teammates broke out in Italian. Conservations sidetracked away from studying to show-tune lyrics and a debate about the plural of applesauce.
What they all have in common is a desire to learn.
“People say, ‘You must be crazy,’ ” said Ertman, a junior, of her classmates’ reaction to her choice of extracurricular activity.
“I like it because you get to learn about things you don’t learn in classes,” she said.
Every year, the competition is centered around a theme. This year, it’s World War I.
In addition to a copy of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” the students received 700 pages of study material covering everything related to the period, from the inventions of Thomas Edison to the poetry of T.S. Eliot.
Along with taking tests in the seven subject areas, including art, economics and social science, students participate in a quiz show-style competition with rapid-fire questions that can come from any of the material.
On Friday – cram day – the team members got free passes from their regular classes to do last-minute reading in the library, run through their speeches one more time and take part in a practice round of the so-called Super Quiz.
From the front of the room, Davis fired questions about artist Umberto Boccioni, composer Irving Berlin, Ottoman military engagements and the definition of ratchet effect.
At last year’s state competition, Scarborough finished third in the Super Quiz.
First place went to Monmouth Academy, which took second place overall and is the only team ever to have beaten Scarborough.
Monmouth also got to go to the national championship last year, when the rules changed so the top two teams from each state qualified.
Davis warned his team on Tuesday that the trip may have whetted Monmouth’s appetite for winning.
“They’re going to be really competitive with us because they’re inspired, and that, in a lot of ways, drives us to work harder, as well,” he said.
The team members claim they haven’t gotten too cocky or complacent.
“If you don’t have a bit of nervousness, it doesn’t drive you to put in as much effort as you can,” said Leng.
But when the topic of team jackets came up, they decided to wait until after Saturday’s competition to order them – just in case they have any new titles to embroider on.
This story was updated at 4 p.m., March 1, to correct the spelling of Alec Leng’s last name.
Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: