Samuel J. Barreto found redemption, and Eric Zamora found himself.The duo was instrumental as University High School claimed its second consecutive Fresno County High School Academic Decathlon championship last Saturday.
University amassed 50,629.6 points to easily get past rival Edison High School (48,742.2 points, and winners of 14 of the previous 16 competitions).
This was University's third title in four years.
Barretto received a one-week suspension his junior year for smoking marijuana. He bounced back from that incident to "refocus on school."
"He helps the team. It's not as good without him," said University coach Sean Canfield.
Barretto picked up seven individual gold medals and one silver medal in the competition which covered subjects ranging from math to social science to arts. His 8,113.7 points were the third highest on the team, just behind teammates Christopher Gu (8,621.6 points) and Rosamond Herling (8,512.4 points).
Gu and Herling were the overall points leaders.
Barretto -- who is "99 percent certain" he will attend California State University, Fresno -- called his suspension a wake-up call.
"I like being on such a great team," said Barretto, who also competed for University last year.
The rivalry with Edison, he said, is exciting because it makes University work harder. The rivalry has a family connection. Older sister Kate is an Edison graduate, and younger sister Tessa is a junior at the school.
"I know a lot of Edison students from middle school," said Barretto.
Zamora, whose speech tied for second, spoke about growing up with an "ultra masculine" father who preferred his son play soccer "and listen to Mexican music."
"But, I wanted to play the violin and listen to Madonna's music," said Zamora in his speech. "He still loved me."
When he was 12, Zamora's secret was discovered by his oldest brother, who promptly took him to his sister's house.
"They forced me to come out," said Zamora, who eventually had to tell his parents about his homosexuality.
"My mom was OK. My father was different; he didn't talk to me for a few days," said Zamora.
In the end, he said, coming out was the best thing he could have done.
"If I hadn't done it, I'm not sure I would have been happy with my life," said Zamora, who totaled 6,440.6 points.
University, which captured the Super Quiz, also got 7,938.4 points from Angel Elizondo and 7,330 points from Richard Martínez III.
Other team members who will go to the March 17-19 state finals in Sacramento are Adam Cooke, Noah Priester and Omoshola Aleru.
Barretto was among five nominees for the Jerry Dotson Award, which goes to a decathlete who exemplifies positive attitude, determination and inspiration.
The winner was Cambridge High School's Fernando Gaytán, who was praised by his coach, Elva Carlos, for firing up the team.
"He's quiet and shy, and he's the first to tell the team to not give up," said Carlos. "He makes the team complete."
Other Dotson nominees included Jesús Sánchez of Sanger High.
Firebaugh remains competitive
Not far from the war being waged by University and Edison, David Magoon watched his Firebaugh High team try to achieve its own goals of having each student win at least one medal.
"We always used Edison and University as models," said Magoon, the team's coach for about 10 years.
Firebaugh, whose enrollment of about 650 is 92.2 percent Latino, finished seventh overall with 33,715.8 points (enough to have won the competitions in Madera or Tulare counties).
The team also met its goal of finishing among the top five in the Super Quiz with fourth place, behind University, Edison and Bullard.
Siblings Luis and Lupe Rubalcava combined to pick up eight medals -- each with two silver and two bronze.
"It feels like a challenge coming from a small school," said Luis about competing on the same stage as Edison and University. "At the end of the day, we're able to compete."
Luis is interested in majoring in civil engineering at USC or another UC.
His sister, also a third-year member of Firebaugh's team, wants to study anthropology or architecture at UC Berkeley.
"I decided to do it for the challenge," said Lupe, who picked up two medals last year. She had three this year.
Lupe mentioned she will miss the time spent studying for the Academic Decathlon. "I feel really close to my team members," she said.
About competing against bigger schools, Lupe said it's no big deal.
"I know our team is just as good," she said.