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Team Handles Pressures Of Academic Contest

POSTED January 25, 2011 3:44 p.m.

For 10 consecutive years, Oakdale High School has reigned over the Stanislaus County Academic Decathlon as champions. With each win, it seems the pressure is turned up for the next year’s team. For a few years before Oakdale’s decade of dominance, the team was knocking on the door of the county championship behind the then-dominant Modesto High School. OHS holds the record for wins at the contest and they are all consecutive.

The team will compete in the 31st Annual Stanislaus County Academic Decathlon on Feb. 4-5 at Gregori High School in Modesto, but the OHS team doesn’t take winning for granted.

OHS Aca Deca coach Lissa Jones acknowledges that there is pressure on the team every year and said that one of the things that she reminds the students of is that while there’s been a history of success, it’s dependent on each team and subject from year to year.

Jones said that the goal is always to win the contest, but it’s likely that at some point the bubble will burst. She said that it has come to the point where the students have intense pressures and they don’t want to let the community down. She noted that each year, there’s a new group of kids but the community support remains as strong as ever.

But while Jones expresses concern about the pressures, the students don’t seem to be all that bothered by it and have a strategy.

“The key is to keep your head down and work,” said competing team member Daniel Dunning of dealing with the pressure.

The Great Depression is this year’s theme for the event and the OHS team has embraced the topic, as it holds similarities to current economic times.

“I like it a lot – it’s so relevant,” said competing team member Paul Perrone about the topic.

“There are so many obvious parallels with what the society was doing in the ‘20s and ‘30s and the economic downturn of today,” Coach Jones said.

Competing team member Kyle Ridenour added that the materials they’re studying really “pull apart” what happened with the Great Depression and has helped them better understand how the economy came to be where it’s at today.

The competing team members all commented on how the sequence of economic decisions that took place then look like the sequence that led up to today’s economic downturn.

“To see the next generation recognizing the errors of an economic philosophy… This will be useful to them,” Jones said.

The students will test for various subject areas at the Aca Deca – math, art, social science, music, economics, language and literature, essay, speech (prepared and impromptu), interview, and Super Quiz.

Jones said that this year the music category is complicated, the toughest yet. Social science is dense with details and facts, what she called the “alphabet soup” of teaching about the New Deal, and they’re focusing on the art category as well. In the math category, calculus has been eliminated, but there is more trigonometry. The students have, of course, also read Grapes of Wrath. Jones said that for the first time in her Aca Deca experience, most of the curriculum is based on the west coast due to the historical connection. Jones has had support working with the students this year from assistant coach Linda Lownsbury.

There are 14 schools participating at the Academic Decathlon that will send nine members each to serve as the core, or competing, team – three students in each of three categories, based on grade point averages. Those categories are: Honors, 3.75-4.00 GPA; Scholastic, 3.00-3.74 GPA; and Varsity, 0.00-2.99 GPA. Schools can send as many alternate participants as they chose. Oakdale has a total of 42 students, minus the nine competing team members, that’s 33 alternates. Oakdale has the largest contingent of students at the competition, which is a real strength according to Jones.

Oakdale’s competing team is comprised of Honors members seniors Daniel Dunning, Kyle Ridenour, and Alissa Kummer; Scholastic members juniors Paul Perrone, Nathan Van Ryn, and senior Ryan Gilpin; and Varsity members senior Robert Anderson, junior Thomas Roberts, and sophomore Andrew Gilpin.

There are four veteran competing team students this year: Dunning, Ridenour, Perrone, and Anderson.

The other high schools sending teams are Beyer, Central Catholic, Central Valley, Ceres, Davis, Denair, Enochs, Johansen, Keyes Charter, Modesto, Riverbank, Valley Charter and Waterford.

Gold, silver and bronze medals are given in all events in the three GPA/academic categories. Ribbons are awarded for fourth and fifth place. Individual trophies/plaques are awarded to the Super Quiz winners and championship team.

The public is invited to attend the culminating event, the Super Quiz and awards presentation, on Saturday, Feb. 5 from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the Gregori High School gymnasium, 5518 Stoddard Road, Modesto. There is no charge for admission. This year’s winner will represent Stanislaus County at the California Academic Decathlon State Finals, March 11-14 in Sacramento.

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