Countless hours of studying the challenging “American Revolution” from every possible academic angle and subject culminated in an Oakdale High School sweep of top honors at the 43rd annual Stanislaus County Academic Decathlon. The event was hosted at Johansen High School on Saturday, Feb. 4 and marked the 20th time the academic Mustangs have claimed the championship.
Oakdale not only won the overall winning team honors and the Super Quiz event, the hard-working academic team swept the Individual High Point Winner awards in each division with the following: First Place Honors Champion Micah Kakuno; First Place Scholastic Champion Carter Franca; First Place Varsity Champion Johanna Fabian; and Alternate Team Member Champion Landon Arnold.
In her eighth year of coaching the OHS “AcaDec” team, Dee Hawksworth shared her students’ excitement and nerves as Oakdale came to defend its championship title but watching Oakdale sweep the competition was a sweet moment of grateful pride.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Hawksworth said. “I think I was more nervous than they were, but once the awards started rolling in, I just sat there and marveled at how well they had done. I know how many different claims on their time they face, from sports to leadership to drama and band … and I am grateful they make the time to study and come to practice.”
First place Varsity Champion and OHS senior Johanna Fabian shared of the experience, “It’s good to defend my title of Top Varsity again … I’m honestly so proud of all of us because I know that even people that weren’t on the team, they would stay after school and practice with us on weekends. Everyone puts so much effort into making this happen so we could break our streak of win, loss, win, loss.”
In 2001, Oakdale High School kicked off a meteoric winning streak lasting until a heartbreaking loss to Hughson in 2017. The team rallied for a win in 2018 but then lost again to Hughson the following year, which kicked off the teeter-totter win-lose streak that Oakdale was eager to break.
Bleu Ancheta hoped this year’s win was enough to put Oakdale back on the right track saying, “We broke a weird streak we had, now we’ve won twice in a row. We’ve had two very promising freshmen this year and I think they’re going to grow into great competitors next year.”
Hawksworth praised the entire team but noted a few standouts this year saying, “Johanna Fabian won the Top Varsity Award for the second year in a row. Seven of her nine medals were first place. Jackson Hammond achieved the nearly impossible ‘10 for 10’ feat. This means he earned a medal in every category. He is only the third student I’ve had to manage this (Johanna was the second). Carter Franca won the Top Scholastic Award for the second year in a row, and six of his eight medals were first place. Senior Mateo Zepeda had his best year yet on the competing team, earning seven medals. Micah Kakuno won the Top Honors Award, which is often difficult because the Honors division has the most competition, and among her many awards, she won a medal in speech, which used to be her toughest event. Sophomore Joseph Yakligian was our third highest scorer, making him a valuable member of the team and earning five medals in the process. Bleu Ancheta was an important addition to the Honors division, and I am hopeful he will stick around for his senior year. He’s really strong in both the objectives and the trickier subjectives. Julia Chavez and Border Rath are new to the team, and ninth graders to boot, but they surpassed my hopes and expectations, so I’m really proud of them, too.”
Other team notables included Landon Arnold who earned the Top Alternate Award, closely followed by Alexia Jeevan who won that award last year. Ninth grader Iyska Rangel was the third highest scoring alternate on the team, earning four medals, which is unusual for such a young student. Daniella Guido, Alphia Jeevan, Austin Speiller, and Cristian Cornejo Plascencia each won two medals in the alternate category.
Hammond, an OHS senior who started his AcaDec journey his freshman year, weathered the COVID upheaval and returned to finish out his OHS career with the academic team, admitted, the win “felt very good,” as his smile matched that of his teammates and coach at the end of the long day, adding that the subject matter this year was a bit of a challenge. “I’m sure next year it’s going to be really fun.”
Now that this year is in the bag, outgoing seniors offered the following advice for students considering joining next year’s team.
Alexia Jeevan said, “Make new friends, study and work hard because it pays off.”
Her twin sister Alphia Jeevan agreed, adding, “Try to specialize in specific subjects. If you choose a subject that you really like or have a passion, I think that would get you a medal and you can have a lot of fun in AcaDec.”
Mateo Zepeda said, “All I have to say is that you just really have to take your time. You have to actually study and not just in class, but in your free time too. As long as you study even a little bit, then you’re going to succeed.”
Even though the team is still riding a high, Hawksworth is ready to welcome new team members with open arms, saying, “To a student who is thinking about joining AcaDec, I would say, ‘Please do!’ This is the one period of the day where I don’t care about class sizes, so the more the better! We especially need students who are intelligent but don’t have straight ‘A’s for the Scholastic and Varsity divisions. The Varsity level is the hardest to recruit for, but if there are smart kids out there who love intellectual discussions, inside jokes, and bonding with a team, we need you.”
Hawksworth added, “Sometimes I have to remind people that a 4.0 GPA doesn’t mean someone is gifted, and a 2.0 GPA doesn’t mean someone is below average in intelligence. A lot of Varsity decathletes are just people who struggle organizationally or they fall behind after an illness or they haven’t found their motivations yet.”
Next week, The Leader will have a listing of the various medals won by the team and the individual team members.