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Academic Decathlon
OHS Ready To Defend Crown
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Competing team members of the 2010 OHS Academic Decathlon team are, from back left, Varsity squad members senior Zachary Weber Reitz, senior Josh Lownsbery, and junior Erika Villa. Middle row: Scholastic squad members sophomore Paul Perrone, and junior Robert Anderson. Front row: Honors squad members junior Kyle Ridenour, junior Daniel Dunning, and senior Todd Medema. Absent from photo is Scholastic squad member Jesse Gelders. There are 44 total students on the OHS Aca Deca team this year, the nine competing members and 35 alternates. - photo by Dawn M. Henley/The Leader

Oakdale High School has taken the top prize in the county Academic Decathlon competition for the past nine consecutive years. Fair or not, there’s a great deal of pressure this year on the OHS team to bring home its tenth win. The team members are fully aware of the other schools that are gunning for them, as well as the expectations from the school and the community that are upon them to achieve.

The 30th Annual Stanislaus County Academic Decathlon, a two-day series of tests, speeches and interviews takes place this Friday and Saturday, Feb. 5-6 at Johansen High School in Modesto.

Leading the OHS team for the second year is coach Lissa Jones, who has been involved peripherally with the OHS Aca Deca team for many years while her sister Leigh Ann Gobel was the team’s coach. She acknowledged that the pressure is high on the team from many well-meaning people in the community with good intentions. However, she said that while she has great confidence in her team, she said that it’s difficult to imagine the same school always representing Stanislaus County at the state competition. She pointed out that one team doesn’t win the Super Bowl every year, year-after-year. Jones has also emphasized to her students the importance of graciousness, whether they win or not.

Competing team members on the 2010 OHS Aca Deca team are Honors squad members junior Kyle Ridenour, junior Daniel Dunning, and senior Todd Medema; Scholastic squad members sophomore Paul Perrone, junior Robby Anderson, and senior Jesse Gelders; and Varsity squad members senior Zachary Weber Reitz, senior Josh Lownsbery, and junior Erika Villa.

While Lownsbery said that the pressure and expectations to bring a win home to Oakdale again this year is “a bit nerve-wracking,” the Aca Deca team members seem to be taking it in stride and know that it comes with the territory.

“It’s a challenge to rise to,” Dunning said. “…It’s the nature of competition.”

“I think we’ve got a pretty good chance,” Ridenour added.

Coach Jones said that this, essentially, is a novice team as they are all new to the competition process with the exception of Medema — he competed as a sophomore, but not as a junior. Additionally, this is the first year of involvement in Aca Deca for Anderson, Villa, and Lownsbery.

There are 44 total students on the OHS Aca Deca team this year, which includes the nine competing members and 35 alternates. Last year, OHS had an all-senior competing team and Jones said that other schools’ Aca Deca coaches have pointed out the fact that the OHS team this year is new. However, Jones added, someone else pointed out that many of the OHS alternates also take a majority of the medals.

Jones said that the OHS team’s strengths, in general, are in Art History and in Economics, but each competing team member brings something different to the table like individual specialties in speech, music, science, and math.

“The one thing that’s really neat about this team, they’re really diversified as to what their strengths are,” Jones said. “It’s very balanced and they work well together in that regard.”

Jones noted that there’s a new topic for the Aca Deca each year. This year’s theme or topic is “The French Revolution.” Several of the competing team members said that some of the study material is interesting and even entertaining at times, which helps with the studies.

The students have spent hours of personal time studying in addition to the time they put in at school preparing for the Academic Decathlon. Two days a week they do extended study at school until 5:30 p.m., they study an additional four hours daily at home, plus 16 hours per week working with the coach, as well as Saturday and lunchtime study sessions.

Jones reported that the students wrote essays and submitted them on Jan. 20 for the Aca Deca competition. She also said that along with studying the different categories of the competition and preparing for the Super Quiz, the students have also been practicing their speeches at lunchtime and after school, while driving in their cars, before they go to sleep…

She said that the students don’t complain about the amount of work and time involved with being on the Aca Deca team. The team members acknowledged that the time commitment is large, but there’s a big payoff at the end when they do well that makes their hard work all worthwhile.

Aside from the medals, trophies, and recognition, Lownsbery said that Aca Deca also makes them more knowledgeable in areas that will help them with their futures.

“Having a general knowledge of economics is useful,” Dunning added as an example.

The public is invited to attend the culminating event, the Super Quiz and Awards Presentation, on Saturday, Feb. 6 from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the Johansen High School gymnasium, 641 Norseman Drive, Modesto. There is no charge for admission.

Participating schools send a total of nine members to serve as the core team — three students in each of three categories, based on grade point averages. Schools may send as many alternate participants as they choose. Categories include Honors, 3.75-4.00 GPA; Scholastic, 3.00-3.74 GPA; and Varsity, 0.00-2.99 GPA.

“The competition is open to all students — not just the top-achievers,” said SCOE Student Events Coordinator Barbara Little, adding that the goal of the decathlon is to stimulate intellectual growth and scholastic success.

Fourteen local high schools are participating in this year’s event.