‘When their love for each other is most on display is when they play the best.’

A Reflection on Central Hardin’s Most Impactful Academic Team


From left to right, Academic Team members Andy McDowell, Grant Avis, Natalie Williams, Sam Christensen, and Tate Lewis.

Lilly Keith, Writer

At some point in our lives, we’re all part of a team. Whether it’s at school, our future jobs, or a sports team. While Academic Team isn’t physically demanding, it’s a sport for the mind. Teams are asked question after question to determine their placement on the scoreboard. Central Hardin’s Academic Team is one of the most close knit teams our school has ever seen. 

The seniors on the Central Hardin Academic Team this year have been together through a lot. Four of the boys on this team have been together since the beginning of middle school: Andy McDowell, Grant Avis, Sam Christensen, and Tate Lewis. 

“Myself, Andy, Sam, and Tate have been on the academic team together since sixth grade. I’ve known Tate since third, and I’ve known Andy and Sam since sixth, but we’ve all been together, close friends since sixth grade,” said Grant Avis.

The team has a bond incomparable to many other teams. 

I will fight and bleed for every one of my teammates,” Christensen said. “Especially Lindy because I know she would avenge me.” 

I mean, they’re my best friends,” Avis mentioned. “It’s as simple as that, like, a lot of people commented at state how close we all seemed to each other, because we don’t feel embarrassed around each other at all, we’re wholly comfortable with one another, in every aspect.”   

“Grant and Sam have been two of my closest friends all throughout middle and high school,” McDowell said. “I do not believe I would have become as close to them if it wasn’t for the academic team.” 

“We’re all really close, Williams said. “I hang out with them every single day, I talk to them every single day, and we hang out outside of school. They know all the dirt about me and everything going on in my life, they’re the first people I go to if something happens.” 

“I’ve always been friends with the team and know that I can trust them for anything,” added Tate Lewis. 

Academic Team Coach April York, who has coached the team for two years, knows the team’s history well.

“Sam and Tate have played together all of their lives, they went to G.C. Burkhead. Andy played for Etown Christian Academy and Grant played for Lincoln Trail,” York said. “Brendan White [who has attended the Gatton Academy at WKU the past two years] was with them for six or seven years.He was not there one year in middle school, and Natalie Williams joined freshman year. Emily Pike does FPS (Future Problem Solving), and she is a senior on our team, but FPS is totally separate from the rest. But Tate, Grant, Sam, and Andy have been together for seven years. That’s sort of the love story.” 

Another important team member who joined this year is freshman Lindy Barnes, or the 4th starter, according to McDowell.

“Lindy Barnes like fits the hole of what Sam, Andy, and Grant don’t know, in like the perfect way. She’s exactly what they need,” York added. 

All across the state, this team has been regarded as one of the most special teams many coaches have ever seen. Their relationships with one another set them apart from other teams that are considered to be top tier.

“They’ve made sure that Central Hardin’s not great because they work hard and they’re studying hard, it’s very important to them that they leave a legacy on how they’ve moved the Central Hardin Academic Team into that list of ‘these are teams to watch all the time,’” said York. “They’ve worked really hard to not only represent their names but the Central Hardin name around the state.” 

Academic Team Coach Chuck Pearsall has been with this team since their freshman year.

“They have a really strong drive to learn to do better, to compete, I think one of the reasons why they do that is so that they don’t want to let down each other, so there’s like a family aspect to it. They see each other as a family, and they’re going to work hard for each other and themselves,” said Pearsall.

Throughout the past four years of their high school careers, the team has made some incredible accomplishments. One of the most memorable moments for the team was when they defeated Henderson County during a scrimmage via Google Meet. 

“One of the state’s strongest teams is Henderson County, ”Pearsall said. “They’re basically on top of all Academic Teams in the state, and during one of our practice sessions with them, when we were scrimmaging them, we made them our focus, and we beat them once this year. Sadly, it wasn’t during the state tournament, but we did beat them.”

Pearsall said this defeat is his proudest moment from this team.

“As soon as we turned off the Google Meet, Grant and Andy started running out of the room and I was scared they were going to run into the door, if I didn’t open it, the janitor thought something was wrong,” York said. “It was this gleeful moment but my proudest moment really probably was the total grace that they held together.” 

“I think my proudest moment, even from the team in general, was right after we lost,” said Avis. “So we went into a game and there were a series of mistakes made by the officials, the moderator, and the judge, and so we lost that game to DuPont manual. That essentially kicked us out of the tournament, and we would have had a good shot at fourth place state-wide, had that series of mistakes not been made. He just totally screwed us over, not meaning to, it was not his intention, but he certainly did. And, it was just a devastating loss. Despite all of that, we still kept our composure after it. I think I was the proudest of our team after we lost because we didn’t throw a hissy fit, and we didn’t take it out the moderator that screwed us over.”

Avis knew that his Academic Team’s legacy was strong when the winning team of the state competition asked our team for help studying.  

“I think just judging for myself that was my proudest, but I think other people proved to me at that point, because of the response after that, how much people loved us, that also showed me we should be proud,” Avis continued. 

Christensen even refers to his team as “Kentucky’s favorite.”

“So many teams and people offered condolences to us after we didn’t do so well at State this year.” 

Being a part of the Academic Team has taught its members very many lessons, whether it has to do with who their closest friends are, or how to work hard and effectively. 

“Being part of this team has taught me to work hard. There are so many extremely smart high schoolers across the state.  We had to put in a lot of work to try to reach the goals we set for ourselves,” McDowell said.

Williams knows that she can rely on her teammates for anything. They welcomed her with open arms when she started attending Central Hardin. 

”They’ve just kinda been my core group of people,” Williams said. “I guess I just have a really strong support system.” 

I’ve been on the academic team for 10 years. This is where I’ve forged my closest friendships and spent over half of my life,” Christensen reflected. “I’d say it’s more of a matter of what academic team hasn’t taught me.”

I think being on the team will benefit me in having lifelong friends and memories that I won’t ever forget,” Lewis said. 

Academic team has also been a bit of a humbling experience for many of the members. 

“Well, I think the biggest thing that it taught me, in terms of self-growth, was that there are a lot of people who are smarter than me in the world… when I got to middle school, I remember my first encounter with Andy. I remember thinking “geez, this guy is smarter than I am,” and, that’s what I learned with Sam and Tate too. So in terms of self-growth, I learned that there were a lot of people in the world who are smarter than I am, and I shouldn’t resent them for that. I shouldn’t try to be better than them, I should try to learn from them, and I realized that I wanted to be friends with people who were smarter than me because that was cool, what’s more cool than being smart?” questioned Avis. 

“Being on the academic team has taught me both the importance of hard work and teamwork,” said McDowell.

“This last year has definitely been my most involved in several years since I quit basketball and getting to spend more time with them has definitely made me regret not being more involved in earlier years,” said Lewis.

In regards to their future plans, they all have big aspirations. 

“Going to UK next year, no idea what I’m doing for a career,” Tate Lewis plans. 

“I’m attending the University of Kentucky in the fall and I’m pursuing a degree in premusic liberal arts to become a music therapist,” Natalie Williams plans. 

“My future plan is to go to the University of Louisville to become an engineer,” Andy said. 

“Andy and I are going to the University of Louisville, we are going to be suitemates there, and I plan on majoring in history and political science, a double major,” said Grant. 

“I plan on going to the University of Florida to study Computer Engineering,” Sam said.

The quintet has been through all of high school together. They’ve shared their most important moments together, and have grown tremendously as people and intellects. Their legacy at Central Hardin will leave an imprint for the rest of the time our academic team competes.