They came, they saw, then they conquered last Saturday.
That was the case for University High in winning its fourth consecutive (and seventh overall) Fresno County Academic Decathlon.
That was also the case for Granite Hills High of Porterville, which stretched its winning streak in the Tulare County Academic Decathlon to three.
And, that was the case for Oakdale High, which rebounded from an upset loss last year to capture the Stanislaus County Academic Decathlon.
The three schools proved their academic prowess in the public Super Quiz and behind-closed-door testing in art, music, language, mathematics, economics, speech, interview, essay, science, and social science. The theme for this year’s Academic Decathlon was ‘Africa.’
The three schools will join other county winners and selected runners-up at the state Academic Decathlon March 23-24 in Sacramento. The state champion will qualify for the national finals in Frisco, Texas.
The following stories are presented in order of the highest-winning scores.
University squeezes past rival Edison High
The rivalry continues, although University High flexed its brain cells once again at the 36th annual Fresno County Academic Decathlon Saturday night (Feb. 3) at Central East High School.
Despite returning only two competitors from last year’s winning squad, University High squeezed out a 680.5-point victory over 18-time champion Edison High. University racked up 51,371 points to Edison’s 50,690.5 points.
“We knew months ago Edison had amazing honors (students), and, as you saw, they swept the dean’s medals,” said University coach Sean Canfield.
That accomplishment, said Canfield, is only the third or fourth time that a school has dominated the top three individual awards.
“They also had the top scholastic. The question was, would we be able to counterbalance that,” added Canfield, who has seen University High win seven titles in nine years.
Canfield and Edison High coach Gary Mrkaich agreed the Super Quiz was the difference. “It was 98 percent of the victory there.”
University High also had five juniors and four seniors on this year’s team.
Miranda Lara, a senior who hopes to go to a UC, had enough energy to light up the West Coast. She welcomed the rivalry with Edison High.
“It was much closer than we expected,” said Lara. “They push us and we push them.”
“I don’t know what to do with myself,” shouted Lara as she leaped in the air, hugged teammates and took photos with the group following the Super Quiz.
Laura Lara drove from San Bernardino, where she is a teacher, to see her daughter in action.
“She’s amazing,” she said of her daughter following the Super Quiz.
The competition, she said, has turned her daughter’s life around.
“From her school work to her social life,” said Laura Lara, who was 16 when she gave birth to the University High School senior.
Edison High coach Gary Mrkaich, whose team has won the most titles in Fresno County history with 18 (Roosevelt is second with 8), had more luck this year in fielding a fuller team.
Mrkaich had five A students and four B students, but had to go with two C students. The competition allows up to three students per level.
He was more than pleased with Edison’s results.
“I thought we’d be around 48,500 points,” said MrKaich.
Sweeping the individual honors – Madeleine Fischer, 9,209.3 points; Daniel Clark, 9,066.6 points; and, Sumanjit Gill, 8,799.4 points – was big, said Mrkaich.
“That was a big one for us,” he said.
Juana Serrato, who joined the Edison High team for the first time, was pleased that Edison came close to upsetting University.
“We tried our best,” said Serrato, who joined the Academic Decathlon team “to push myself.”
Before the Super Quiz began, Fresno County Superintendent Jim Yovino welcomed the competitors, their parents and other relatives, the coaches and others for what he called the “real Super Bowl.”
“I know of no other event at school where students work so hard,” said Yovino.
Dr. Honora Chapman, associate dean of Fresno State’s College of Arts and Humanities, told the students that the academic competition is special.
“For the rest of your lives, you will remember what you learned this past year,” said Chapman.
KMPH news anchor Rich Rodríguez served as the quizmaster for the 27th year.
Other top winners:
▪ Division II: Fowler, 39,895.1 points; Sanger High, 37,652.2 points; Sunnyside High, 37,131.9 points.
▪ Division III: Firebaugh High, 40,534.9 points; Clovis West, 37,678.2; Duncan Polytechnical, 36,320.9 points.
▪ Division IV: Washington Union, 26,789.2 points; Caruthers High, 25,150 points; Cambridge High, 24,771 points.
Oakdale High rebounds from 2017 setback
Its absence was only one year, but Oakdale High School celebrated its Stanislaus County Academic Decathlon title Saturday night as if it was something new.
When the school’s name was called as champions of the 38th edition of the academic challenge held at Ceres High School, team members screamed in excitement as they jumped out from their seats to go claim the championship trophy.
With 45,594.3 points, Oakdale took back the Academic Decathlon title Saturday.
“Honestly, you know, watching the kids get medals today I felt like we were doing great, but I still wasn’t sure, until they announced it,” said Oakdale coach Dee Hawksworth of winning the title back. “And then it was just so exciting.”
Last year, Oakdale placed second after Hughson High School pull off an upset.
Oakdale had won the county’s academic decathlon for 16 years in a row since 2001 before the 2017 loss to Hughson.
This will be the 17th time Oakdale High School gets to represent Stanislaus County at the state finals March 23-24 in Sacramento.
Asked how her team will be preparing for the state finals Hawksworth said “We are going to practice Super Quiz more, definitely. That seems to be one of our weaknesses. And also we didn’t get as many medals in science as I like, so we are going to work on that one.”
For Joseph Navarro, this is his fourth year being part of the Academic Decathlon class but his first year actually competing in the event.
The 17-year old won medals in math, music and economics.
“I didn’t expect music, but I did try really hard for music so it makes sense,” said Navarro, an Oakdale senior.
Navarro is looking forward to the state competition.
“I heard so much about State being really fun,” Navarro said.
This year, Stanislaus County saw for the first time in the county’s history of the competition a tie for the Super Quiz as Ceres and Enochs high schools getting the same score.
Hughson High placed second with 40,902.1 points while Ceres High was third with 39,638.3 points.
“After so many schools were winning all those medals, and my kids were doing really well, but man, it was really closed,” said Hughson coach Paul Michaelis of being the runner-up this year. “I am just supper happy that we ended up in the position that we ended in.”
Michaelis said the team that came to the decathlon and won last year was a pretty much a completely different team from year since 13 of the 16 team members graduated in 2017.
“This group is really young,” Michaelis adding that he was very hopeful his team would place in the top three. “A lot of the teams here, Oakdale, Beyer (High School), Ceres, are strong teams.”
This was Hughson’s third year participating in the decathlon.
“Oakdale had a monster year, so being second to them nothing to be ashamed of,” said Michaelis.
Gabby Madrigal has been wanting to be part of the Hughson’s academic decathlon team for a couple of year but her schedule didn’t work out before until this year.
Madrigal, a senior, said she has liked her experience in the team.
“I really like it. It is a lot of hard work but I feel like I am getting a lot out of it,” said the 17-year-old student who also took several medals home.
The Challenge Cup Winner award went to Enochs High while the most Improved Team award went to Modesto High School.
Individual winner by division:
▪ Honors: Abhishek Devarajan, Enochs High (8,284.1 points)
▪ Scholastic: Jude Markel, Oakdale High (7,865.1 points)
▪ Varsity: Michael Dunn, Oakdale High (6,486.7 points)
▪ Alternate team member: Ryan Kummer, Oakdale High
▪ Essay winner: Rachel Thompson, Modesto High
Three-peat for Granite Hills
Granite Hills High School three-peated as victors of the Tulare County Academic Decathlon and will compete against California’s best in Sacramento come March.
Team 2 of the Grizzlies’ won the large school division, while Orosi High School won the small schools division after Saturday’s (Feb. 3) Super Quiz that tested kids on their knowledge of Africa.
Approximately 55 high school students from 10 Tulare County schools were challenged on art, economics, literature, mathematics, music, science, social science. Additionally the kids were graded on essays, speech and interviews. Only the Super Quiz portion of the competition was public.
Granite Hills head coach Elissa Lombardi, an experienced decathlon coach of at least eight years, understood the challenge
“Seven new students out of nine. It was very challenging because they were very nervous,” said Lombardi.
“The didn’t know how to do the Super Quiz, they felt very nervous about the speech, but I had a lot of support on my campus.”
Lombardi, who has coached for at least eight years, also led last year’s Porterville-based squad to the California Academic Decathlon in Sacramento.
Daniel Díaz, a senior at Granite Hills, was his team’s leading boy’s medalist with 8.
“I plan on attending COS (College of the Sequoias) and then attending UC Davis. I want to major in animal science,” said Díaz, 18.
Diaz has a 2.8 grade point average at Granite Hills. He’s also researched UC Berkeley, and Capella University.
“I arrived at the university that I want to go to because they are rated No. 1 nationally for their animal science program,” added Díaz, who is interested in opening a slaughter house in Texas upon graduation from college.
Gwenyth English, a junior, led her female Granite Hills teammates with 9 medals; eight gold and one bronze.
“I didn’t even know before that it (Africa) was the second-largest continent in the world,” said English, who is already mulling over colleges UCLA and Fresno State.
“It was very fascinating to read about all of it.”
According to the Tulare County officials, Orosi High School has never represented the county at the state level.
Lead medalist for Orosi was Pedro Méndez, a 16-year-old who has never competed in an academic decathlon, yet won 10 medals.
Orosi High English teacher Daniel Albers led the team to the small schools victory.
“One of my friends said, ‘All you do is test,’ and I said, ‘OK, no problem,’” said Méndez, “I just wanted to see what this was about; like to experience it.”
Méndez, who said he was never invited to his team’s weekly gatherings, was most impressed with Africa’s music.
With regard to his many medals, Méndez, who has an approximate 2.4 grade point average, simply said, “I’m surprised. I didn’t study. I’d like to do something with technology in college.”
Méndez, a shot put athlete in track and field, said he would rejoin the team next year if one of his friends joins as well.
More photos: www.vidaenelvalle.com