Oakdale decathletes take another bow

naustin@modbee.comFebruary 1, 2014 

    alternate textNan Austin
    Title: Education reporter
    Coverage areas: K-12 education, Yosemite Community College District
    Bio: Nan Austin has been a copy editor and reporter at The Modesto Bee for 24 years. She has an economics degree from CSU Stanislaus and previously worked at the Merced Sun-Star and Turlock Journal.
    Recent stories written by Nan
    On Twitter: @nanaustin
    E-mail: naustin@modbee.com

Sweaty pencils stilled. Deep exhales all around. After five months and countless hours of prep and practice, the Stanislaus County Academic Decathlon ended with cheers and a palpable sense of a game well-played.

“Nervous. Excited. It was really awesome,” said a visibly relieved Saige Cedano of Johansen High in Modesto after the Super Quiz wrapped up.

In the end, Oakdale High continued its winning streak, taking first place for the 14th consecutive year in the large high school category. Modesto’s Beyer High took second-place honors and Ceres High came in third.

The quiz tested teens on their knowledge of the World War I era, when the earliest gramophones used wax cylinders and geneticists scratched their heads over polygenic inheritance.

Puzzling out the pronunciation of such terms in front of the jam-packed gymnasium at Gregori High in Modesto was emcee William Broderick-Villa, a 1996 and ’97 Oakdale High decathlete and Waterford High coach before going into law. Called in at the last minute, Broderick-Villa and his wife gave up opera tickets. Aca Deca and its people still have that pull, he said.

“I still have kids call me and talk about how it prepared them for college, the speech helps in their job,” he said.

Watching from the sidelines, Stanislaus County Superintendent Tom Changnon said the questions were tough and he admired the contestants. “We need more students challenging themselves. These students have that inner drive,” he said.

“It definitely takes a lot of time and effort,” said Ceres High team member Cassi Massie after the competition. She believes it will help her be ready for college.

“It’s hard, but it’s worth it,” said sophomore Jackie Gonzales of Denair High, as she greeted her family in the stands. Denair teens study in an Academic Decathlon class and meet Saturdays for extra session. Families pitch in meals and desserts each week, Gonzales said.

Sister Maggie Gonzales, a 2011 Denair grad, said she was glad her little sister decided to try it this year: “Best thing about high school – pretty much all that I remember of it.”

“It really helped prepare Maggie for college. It gave her that motivation to go on to college and the study skills. It really gave that drive,” said mom Dora Gonzales.

“It’s an amazing program,” said Rita Castro, whose son attends Central Catholic High in Modesto. It has to be, she said, to get teens to volunteer to take 10 tests, give a prepared speech and an impromptu speech, and have an interview. “It’s a conglomeration of so many topics. My son’s a real history buff, but it’s his opportunity to really learn in depth,” she said.

Her son, Daniel White, said he felt good after sitting for the 12 questions given high-grade-point students. Also a soccer player, he said competing in the Academic Decathlon had the same team feeling but “it seems a lot closer knit.”

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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