Coaches > Roberts/Caperton Inspiration Award

Roberts/Caperton Inspiration Award

2023 Kristin Caperton award winner Ellie Tavani with her Coach, Deanna Hasty.


2023 Kristin Caperton award winner Sophie Walker and  Arizona State Director, Sarah Morris (Left) Coach, Joann Wuthrich and Sophie's mom, Ann Walker (Right). 

Does your team include a decathlete who has overcome great challenges and has inspired others?   See below how the USAD "village" can honor those accomplishments.

The Roberts/Caperton Inspiration Award was established by the United States Academic Decathlon Board of Directors to honor two Board members. Both individuals demonstrated great commitment and dedication to the Academic Decathlon, even during difficult years of their personal lifetimes. This award is presented to student decathletes at any level or category of competition who demonstrates a high degree of dedication, strength of character, team leadership, perseverance and commitment while overcoming significant obstacles or unusual circumstances to participate in the United States Academic Decathlon. The Board welcomes nominations from USAD coaches during the course of each competition year, and appropriate public recognition will be determined for the most deserving nominees.

Kristin Caperton created the award in 1984 to recognize student decathletes who demonstrate a high degree of dedication, strength of character, team leadership, and perseverance while overcoming significant obstacles or unusual circumstances in their lives. She continued to work on funding for the Decathlon securing funding even while she was hospitalized with an illness that eventually took her life.

Suzanne Roberts served as a Board member for many years and assumed oversight of the award upon the passing of Kristin Caperton. Suzanne provided leadership in advertising the award and ensuring continual financial support for it for over three decades.  She did so even as she battled a terminal illness during the last years of her life. Consequently, it seemed very fitting for the Board to rename the award the Roberts-Caperton Award in 2023 in recognition of the strength of character, leadership, and perseverance of both women who were very dedicated to honoring exceptional student decathletes.

Often the winner has been an important catalyst in her or his team's strong performance during the USAD competition. Some winners have successes in USAD despite significant physical and/or emotional challenges.  Meeting these courageous students who have overcome blindness, deafness, and debilitating or terminal illnesses, has been an inspirational aspect of the competition.  The first recipient set a high standard. An alternate on the Louisiana team, he walked door to door to raise money for his teammates to travel to Nationals---in a full body cast on crutches! Some examples of previous winners include the following:

1. A blind decathlete successfully competed and, in the process, pioneered techniques allowing other students to do so.

2. A student with Stage 3 Hodgkin's Lymphoma disease remained devoted to the USAD while undergoing aggressive chemotherapy.

3. Both winners one year were foster children, and both were feted at the banquet thanks to the coach providing transportation.

4. Despite severe visual problems from juvenile macular degeneration, a student was the highest scorer overall in the small school honor category.

5. A disadvantaged decathlete overcame homelessness, abuse, neglect, and life-threatening medical problems to become the rock of his team. He expressed his joy by doing cartwheels in the hotel lobby.

6. Even with a pathological speech disorder, a participant was selected for speech showcase.  She presented the award to another Roberts/Caperton winner in a subsequent year with a flawless delivery.  She is now a lawyer with the Department of Education's disability unit.


Recipient: Ellie Tavani, North Atlanta High School, GA
Coache: Deanna Hasty

Academic Decathlon has changed my life for the better in several ways. I’ve always grown up loving sports, as my family is full of big sports fans, and I would love to play sports but due to my condition, Epidermolysis Bullosa, and my very fragile skin that comes along with it, it has prohibited me from playing due to the inevitable injuries that I could get. I am a very competitive person by nature and as I am unable to compete in physical sports, Academic Decathlon has given me the perfect outlet to compete to be the top. Competitions are something I greatly look forward to where I can show off my brain and my hard work. In addition, as this was my first year as a decathlete, my team was beyond inclusive of me and was very supportive of what I added to the team. As a younger kid and even now, I always received stares due to my condition, so it is something I generally try not to draw a ton of attention to. I try to problem solve and adapt to doing things myself to fit in and also be independent. My team has not only accepted me for who I am and what I deal with, but also embraced it. Academic Decathlon has led me to meet some incredible peers and friends and partake in new, challenging experiences, and make memories I will remember very fondly. I will forever be grateful to Academic Decathlon, and those who helped me be recognized for this great honor, especially my incredible team and supportive coaches. 

Recipient: Sophie Walker, Basha High School, AZ
Coach: Joann Wuthrich
While POTS or Post-Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome has been an integral part of my health decline, it has not always been as noticeable. In some parts of my life there became no concealing the impacts it has caused; however, that was also one of the largest challenges to accept. Academic Decathlon was a very noticeable area of change, I could not hide my cane or the help I came to rely on during competitions. It was thanks to the help and support of my Academic Decathlon team and coaches, community, and especially my mom that I found it was okay for my differences to be noticed and that I could still participate in things I enjoyed despite unique challenges.
In addition to the prestige, the award includes a plaque and $1,500 from the USAD Board of Directors. To nominate a decathlete, coaches should complete a nomination form by clicking on the link below and submitting that form to by the deadline.

Kristin-Caperton-1.jpg Suzanne-2.jpg
Kristin Caperton                        Suzanne Roberts
Founder, USAD                         Founder, USAD