The Stanislaus County Academic Decathlon Trophy has once again returned to the Oakdale High School campus, back in Mustang territory. For the 16th consecutive year Oakdale’s Aca Dec team has proven what some may deny, Oakdale students are driven well beyond the sports playing field.
The pressure felt by these students, most specifically the competing nine is no different than that of the undefeated football or wrestling team. They approach the ‘field’ with the knowledge that they have done the work, they are prepared and up for the challenge. But let’s face it, no one be it quarterback or scholastic decathlete wants to be the first to end the streak.
On Saturday, Feb. 6 Oakdale’s Aca Dec team not only faced the challenge head on, but offered continued hope for the coming year’s team. Seven of this year’s competing team will be graduating in May. A fact which prior to Saturday’s event the team shared is par for the course and what keeps the team fresh and competitive.
I attended my first Academic Decathlon in 2003, back in the day when this was all ‘new’ in the way of winning and while the pressure was just as much on those students, the attention was not as great. Thirteen years later, when speaking to the competing nine it is fair to say they still feel a bit misunderstood. Contrary to the stigma, they are not a group of ‘nerds.’ They are just as diverse as the other teams whose trophies grace the OHS Campus. They are not all ‘Straight A’ students and each are gifted in varying areas. That’s what makes for a good team.
Just like a sports team, they rely on one another to bring their academic A game to the group. They expect the same dedication a quarterback does from his linemen and they don’t operate by excuses.
The team noted prior to Saturday that the ‘gap was closing.’ The gap they were speaking of comes in the way of total points scored by each competing team. Oakdale’s Overall Team Total for 2016 was 47,750, trailed by Hughson High with an equally impressive 43,036 (numbers which were modified from Saturday’s announcement due to a tabulation error by officials).
Part of being a skilled athlete is recognizing the strength of your competition, staying humble and not getting cocky. The Oakdale Mustangs have that going for them. Each year that passes, the team has yet to rest on their laurels or view the event as anything but a challenge they are up for.
“You know it’s never certain, even after 16 years,” rookie coach Dee Hawksworth said. “We all felt a sigh of relief (when hearing the winner).
“We had a couple of students that had been really sick,” Hawksworth shared, noting that one had battled a 103 temperature the night before. She said though the ill health was reflective in some of the students overall and individual scores, there was still enough to push them well over the top to earn the trophy.
Enthusiasm on Saturday, however, did not just come from the competing nine but the entire team, as many of the alternates were also granted awards in the various categories.
“Every junior alternate won at least one medal,” Hawksworth said. “I think that for the first year the freshmen came in pretty excited because they had done Academic Pentathlon (at the Junior High) last year and done pretty well.”
Enthusiasm which was palpable as the alternate categories were called and alternate OHS Mustangs literally bounced off the bleachers in celebration of hearing their names. A glimpse of the legacy’s future? Perhaps. The shoes which accompany the signature team red mock neck shirt are big ones to fill, yet the streak continues.
For now, the competing nine will take a moment to breathe and then return to preparation for the next step. As the winners of the 36th Annual Stanislaus County Academic Decathlon, they will now travel to Sacramento from March 17 to 20 as the Stanislaus County representatives in the State competition.
“They all had been sick at one point in the week and a half leading up to Saturday,” Hawksworth stated of the competing team. “I feel bad that they were all sick and exhausted, but I’m very proud of them for pushing through.”
Look for individual results from the weekend event in the Feb. 17 issue of The Leader.
Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at email@example.com or by calling 847-3021.