Why were Edison High students wiping away tears Saturday night? Answer: A surprise Academic Decathlon victory

Edison High School won the 37th annual Fresno County Academic Decathlon with 50,191.7 points to edge past rival University High (50,079.1).
Edison High School won the 37th annual Fresno County Academic Decathlon with 50,191.7 points to edge past rival University High (50,079.1).

In the end, Madeleine Fischer was crying inside the Central High East gym.

So was Elizabeth Rodríguez.

Those were tears of joy for the only returners from last year’s Fresno County Academic Decathlon team from Edison High, which pulled off an upset against powerhouse University High to win the school’s record 19th county title.

“Shock. Joy. Conflicting emotions,” were the words Edison coach Gary Mrkaich used to describe the evening.

Edison squeaked past University, the four-time defending champion, 50,191.7 points to 50,079.1 points. Edison advances to the March 21-24 state finals, while University is expected to get an invitation.

Edison High School competitor Elizabeth Rodríguez broke into tears after helping the school win the 37th annual Fresno County Academic Decathlon. She was one of two returning competitors. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

In September, Mrkaich wasn’t sure Edison would field a team.

“I literally told the county, ‘I don’t know if we’ll have a team,’” recalled Mrkaich.

That’s where Fischer and Rodríguez stepped in. They had to beg, plea and convince fellow students to join the team.

“Maddie and I literally built this team from nothing,” said Rodríguez. “We were the only two returning. Everyone else either graduated or didn’t feel it was their thing anymore. So, we had to constantly try and find new people.”

Mrkaich welcomed Ana Manjares to the team shortly after making his alarming statement to the county. By mid-October, Andrew Contreras came on board, followed by Berenice Jiménez.

“After Thanksgiving, we got out last two,” said Mrkaich. “It was just a battle to keep going and hope that we would have all the pieces in place. Tonight, it just worked.”

Edison High School teammates Madeleine Fischer (first, 9,208 points) and Vanessa López (second, 8,357.1 points) joined University High’s Sohan Banerjee (third, 8,108.7 points) as the top individuals at the Fresno County Academic Decathlon. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

Fischer made sure it worked by earning the individual top score with 9,208 points. Freshman teammate Vanessa López, with 8,357.1 points, claimed second-highest individual, ahead of University’s Sohan Banerjee.

Edison got lucky to get López, who was looking for an extracurricular activity.

“In my freshman packet, they added a list of academic teams and I did ‘Inky dinky donkey, daddy had a doggy’ and I landed on Aca Deca,” said López. “Ever since then, I’ve been so grateful I got lucky and landed on that.”

López knew about the rivalry with University, and said the team worked “really hard.”

“We were so surprised and so happy that we beat them,” she said.

Rodríguez had an inkling after the Super Quiz that Edison could win its first title since 2011.

Edison High School competitor Vanessa López and her teammates react upon hearing that Fresno County Academic Decathlon rival University High placed second overall with 50,079.1 points. Edison broke University’s streak of four consecutive titles Saturday night. Edison totaled 50,191.7 points to win for the first time since 2014, and 19th time in the 37-year history of the academic competition. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

However, Mrkaich told her, “I don’t know.”

University High, which is coached by Sean Canfield, dominated the Super Quiz, racking up 5,250 points while Edison had 4,830 points.

“You never know,” said Rodríguez. Medals don’t mean you outscored someone. We made it. It was unexpected.”

The majority of the audience, including other competing schools, broke into chants of “Edison! Edison! Edison!” as the team members passed a gauntlet to get to the stage for their ribbons and trophies.

None of that would have been possible, said Mrkaich, without a total team effort.

Edison High School competitor Madeleine Fischer gets emotional after answering correctly on a Super Quiz question during the Fresno County Academic Decathlon. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

He moved Rodríguez from the varsity level to the much harder scholastic level “because we just needed to do that.”

“I told Ana (Manjares) today we couldn’t have done it without her,” said Mrkaich. “Yes, Maddie Fischer is fantastic, but Ana Manjares was right there with her because we needed those points.

“She doesn’t get the awards and all that, but without every single point she delivered we don’t win.”

Fowler High, a Division II team coached by David Tinker, placed third overall with 39,275.8 points.

Design Science High, a Division III school led by coach Lisa Portela, was fourth overall with 36,558 points. The school also won the most improved award by bettering last year’s mark by 13.26 percent.