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Academic Decathlon Battle Looms For Oakdale Students
O AcaDec 2-1-23
Members of the Oakdale High School 2023 Academic Decathlon competing team include, clockwise from top left, Micah Kakuno, Joseph Yakligian, Carter Franca, Jackson Hammond, Mateo Zepeda, Julia Chavez, Border Rath, Johanna Fabian and Bleu Ancheta. Teresa Hammond/The Leader

The academic excitement is once again in the air as the Oakdale High School Academic Decathlon Team prepares for the 2023 Stanislaus County Academic Decathlon. The event is scheduled for this Saturday, Feb. 4, being hosted at Johansen High School in Modesto. Testing will begin at 8 a.m.

The Super Quiz, the only public part of the annual event, is scheduled to begin at 1:15 p.m. in the school gym at Johansen. The awards ceremony will follow. The event is free to the public.

A team comprised of 26 students, from freshmen to seniors, there are nine students that make up the competing team. The 2023 competing team members are: Honors (GPA 3.8-4.0) - Micah Kakuno, Joseph Yakligian and Bleu Ancheta; Scholastic (GPA 3.2-3.799) - Mateo Zepeda, Carter Franca and Border Rath; Varsity (GPA 0.0-3.199) - Johanna Fabian, Jackson Hammond and Julia Chavez.

As the reigning 2022 Champion Team, the OHS competing team members shared they are both ready, as well as excited to return to an in-person competition.

“I’ve been on the team all four years,” senior Johanna Fabian shared. “I enjoy doing Academic Decathlon. I enjoy going to the competition every year with my teammates and winning.”

It has been a couple of years since the students have gotten to take part in the same location.

“This year I’m really hopeful that we get to go to state,” Fabian continued, “because we’re doing everything in person again, which we haven’t done since my freshman year.”

In 2020 the OHS Team also secured a first place showing, yet was restricted to an on-line forum for the State Competition due to the pandemic. The year 2022 was the first return to in person, which was for awards only. This year marks the first return to complete “normalcy” since 2019.

“I really want to win and break this stupid streak,” senior Micah Kakuno said of the team’s recent pattern of second, first, second, first the previous four years. “I think to be the team to win two years in a row would be nice.”

“I think we could be the team to break that,” junior Carter Franca added.

As is customary, prior to this Saturday’s test taking event and Super Quiz, the team has already competed and been judged in the categories of Speech, Interview and Essay.

“Speech and Interview was fun to do in person,” Kakuno shared, noting the difference of being in person versus sitting in a room waiting your turn on a Zoom meeting.

This year’s topic for the academic match-up is the “American Revolution,” a topic which unlike last year’s topic of “Water,” is a bit more complicated to prepare for.

“Water is much cooler than the American Revolution,” returning team member Bleu Ancheta said candidly.

“Last year with “Water” they could ask whatever questions they want, but with the American Revolution it’s so specific that the questions have to be more specific,” Franca explained.

Of the nine set to compete this Saturday, six are returning competing team members, four are seniors and two freshmen have joined to balance out the team overall.

“I’m very much enjoying it,” freshman Border Rath shared of joining the team. “It’s a lot of pressure, but I can handle it.”

Teammate Julia Chavez also shared enjoying the AcaDec experience, which she first learned of from her neighbor who was a member of the team. Both freshmen shared they intend to follow the footsteps of some of the others and continue on the team for all four years of high school.

“I think the fact that we have a lot of returning members,” Fabian said of her thoughts for the Saturday competition. “That makes me feel confident that we can do that again and also the freshmen are putting in the effort.”

Yet as the team prepares in the final days for an event which has become commonly known as the “smart kids thing,” there is a strong feeling of debunking the myth.

“You don’t need good grades to be in Aca Dec,” Kakuno stated. “The problem with other schools, particularly with this year, is that they don’t have people to fill each division because there’s just so many people with straight A’s that want to be in the ‘nerd club’ and not enough people with lower grades who would be confident joining.”

The students, most especially the four seniors, continued to share gratitude as they spoke about returning to an all in-person event. While they are excited, the reality and drive to win remains intact.

“As Oakdale kids we have the pressure to go to state and win county,” Fabian said. “Not only is it pressure, but it feels good to win.”

There’s also a different aspect to ‘winning’ that many of the team members share.

“This club has taught me a lot,” outgoing senior Fabian explained of the win-win situation. “I feel passionate about this program, because it has allowed me to learn a variety of things.”