Merced County high school students gathered for the 32nd year Saturday to flex their brains in the 2013 Merced County Academic Decathlon, held at Merced College.
Ten high schools from the county participated in the event. Students competed individually by giving speeches and interviews, while teams competed in a super quiz competition. Categories included art, economics, language and literature, math, music, science, and the social sciences. The awards ceremony was held at the Merced College Theater on Saturday night.
Atwater High School upset Merced High by taking the gold medal in the super quiz. Merced High took home the silver medal in the super quiz, while Valley Community School's Atwater campus won the bronze medal.
However, Merced High's Bears won the overall competition for the fifth straight year, along with another trip to the state decathlon.
Qixuan Zhang, 17, senior and four-year Merced High decathlon team member, was the overall top scoring student for the second straight year in the competition. "This year's experience bears weight, because it's my last year participating," said Zhang. "It has definitely shaped my high school career more than anything else."
Joel Sebastian, U.S. history teacher and Merced High decathlon coach, said wining the overall competition was quite an accomplishment for the school.
"It's unexpected. At some point the streak comes to an end," Sebastian said. "But it was nice to get one more this year, and we have eight seniors, so we wanted to be successful, and then we'll have to reload next year."
Sebastian credited the other teams for stepping up in the competition, and praised Atwater for having a good team and taking first place in the super quiz. He also commented on the unpredictability of the decathlon.
"Unlike sports, you don't really know (how your team will do) until the day of the competition," he said. "It's not like you can watch other games or competitions. You show up and you prepare your team, and see what other teams are bringing, and we all find out (how everyone did) at the awards that night."
Merced High also took the top scoring honor in the large school division with Le Grand High winning first in the small school division.
Zhang said the competition was fierce as ever.
"There are so many good schools in our county. It's definitely tough, and I'm proud we did it," he said.
Zhang also thanked his coach, and emphasized that their effort as a team was the most crucial element in their success at the decathlon.
The Merced High decathlon team has another month and a half of preparation until the state competition on March 14-17 in Sacramento. Sixty-five teams will compete to qualify for the national competition.