The academic “Super Bowl” for local high schools, the 32nd Annual Stanislaus County Academic Decathlon, is a little over a week away and Oakdale High School is preparing for the possibility of attaining its 12th consecutive championship.
OHS has acquired 11 Aca Deca wins in as many years, and if the OHS Aca Deca team has its way, it’ll be number 12 in 2012.
The Academic Decathlon is a two-day series of tests, speeches and interviews featuring the theme, “The Age of Empire.” The culminating event is the Super Quiz, which starts at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 4. It’s followed by an awards presentation that will wrap around 5:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend free of charge, at the Gregori High School gymnasium, 5518 Stoddard Road, Modesto.
Nine members comprise the OHS competing team, which is made up of three squads of students who are classified by their grade point average. OHS Honors squad members are Paul Perrone, Madison Lane, and Robert Winders; Scholastic squad members are Adam Jensen, Jarrod Colvin, and Nathaniel Van Ryn; and Varsity squad members are Thomas Roberts, Connie Speer, and Thomas Dempsey. There are also a number of alternate team members, bringing the total Oakdale delegation to 31 students.
This year, OHS also has a new Aca Deca coach in Linda (Lownsbery) Dodge who was an assistant coach last year.
After so many consecutive championships, the Oakdale team knows that other teams are hungry to get a win for themselves, but according to senior Paul Perrone, the OHS team is “hungrier” than the rest.
“We definitely want to win. We don’t consider losing an option,” he said. “The community has done so much for us, we don’t want to let them down.”
Part of what maintains that hunger, Perrone reported, is looking to past examples of OHS teams. He has been a teammate of some of the best, i.e. highest scoring, team members OHS has ever had, he said. He added that there is a friendly competition amongst the team members, as well as not wanting to be embarrassed, and it’s good motivation.
Additionally, Perrone said that whenever they hear about articles in other publications about other teams, it really “fires up” the team.
“We really feel the pressure of going for this twelfth year… That really keeps us going. It’s that extra motivation because we don’t want to stop,” said junior Madison Lane.
She said that the team has a really good dynamic because they’re all good friends. She noted that they also try to work on areas of curriculum where they’re not as strong in order to improve. Perrone added that the team has a diverse skill set so they pool their resources, which makes them more competitive.
Coach Dodge acknowledged that she, too, feels the weight of expectations for the team to capture another championship.
“It is a fair amount of pressure,” she said. “I try to do the best I can at whatever I’m doing… The kids are the ones who really have the pressure. They’re doing the hard work.”
Perrone noted that while making a transition to a new coach is challenging, it’s something he’s experienced before. He said Dodge makes sure the team keeps up with the standards they’ve set for themselves.
Lane added that there is a certain mentality that’s built into the program, and no matter who their coach, the students have to have that mentality to be successful.
Dodge said she wants the team to keep their goals in mind. She reminds the students that there are no guarantees, it’s different every year and they can’t rest on the laurels of previous years’ teams.
One thing that plays a role in the team’s success, Dodge said, is that the students really encourage each other and the older ones mentor the younger ones. She said the veterans help the newer members acclimate into the culture of Aca Deca and learn what’s expected. She added that the students also work very hard and spur on each other.
“The type of student who wants to be involved with this wants to succeed… They’re very motivated students,” she said.
Dodge teaches the seventh period humanities class in which the Aca Deca team members are enrolled. Along with the class, the students also participate in two long study sessions per week, meet on Saturdays and also have informal meet-ups to discuss material. Perrone said that because the students are all friends, even when they get together to hang out, they usually end up talking shop.
“It becomes an integral part of who you are,” he said, adding that it’s a lot of work with great friends.
“I really didn’t like high school until I joined Aca Deca,” Lane revealed. “…I’m a competitive person but not really in sports. It gives me something to look forward to and be good at.”
OHS will compete against Beyer, Central Catholic, Central Valley, Ceres, Davis, Denair, Enochs, Gregori, Keyes Charter, Modesto, and Valley Charter high schools.
This year’s winner will represent Stanislaus County at the California Academic Decathlon State Finals, March 15-18 in Sacramento.