This appeared in the Bakersfield Californian in November of 1996. Some day I might dig up the actual date, but my hunch is that it was Tuesday, November 20th. Rereading this, there are a lot of things I would have said
differently, but that’s to be expected. Oh well.
As the nine members of West High’s Academic Decathlon team walked off the stage for the final time, the jingling got louder.
“On dasher, on dancer…” a student in the audience joked as we returned to our seats.
This ringing was not that of eight tiny reindeer on the roof of Bakersfield College’s indoor theater. Instead, it was the sound of the 47 medals hanging around necks of West’s team members.
But those medals were hardly a gift. We worked hard. In fact every team that participated in the Academic Decathlon spent many hours preparing for the event.
Despite their dominance, large schools like overall winners West, Bakersfield and Highland, were not the only participants in the Academic Decathlon. Students from smaller schools such as McFarland, Kern Valley and Erwin Owen also won medals.
As the name suggests, Academic Decathlon is a national competition comprised of 10 academic events that include math, science, language and literature, social studies, fine arts, economics, essay, speech, interview and super quiz. Super quiz, which is the only publicly viewed event, allows everybody to see how hard you didn’t study.
Each team of nine students is divided into three groups based on grade point average. Students in the honors division have a G.P.A. of 3.75 or more, the scholastic division students have G.P.A.s of 3.0 to 3.75, and the students who compete in the varsity division have a G.P.A. of 2.0 to 2.75.
The amount of time required to study everything you ever wanted to know and then some about 10 subjects is often underestimated. Some people who thought they would be able to handle the work found out the hard way; while others just adjusted and had fun studying.
From the time we got our first study materials in August until just before we took the first test, we studied every scrap of material we could get our hands on.
People have asked me just how much we really studied, and the answer is that we really studied at least 40 to 60 hours a week. We met every day after school for at least two hours. And we met every Sunday for most of the afternoon. And we studied our material every spare second that we had.
Despite the commitment and discipline Academic Decathlon requires, I enjoyed the process tremendously. I got to know the other eight members of my team better than I want to know most people.
From exchanging jokes at breakneck speeds to eating pizza on the couch while watching a baseball game, studying for the Academic Decathlon was fun.
But I learned more from the experience than what a LASER is and what the chief exports of Angola are.
I learned how to work together as a team with eight other people who would sometimes crack one too many jokes. I learned what it meant to really study. I learned that managing your time, energy and sanity are important. But most importantly, I learned that staying up utnil 4 a.m. trying to remember the difference between Burundi and Rwanda is really not a good idea.
Now West’s team gets to start studying again. In March, we will compete at the state Academic Decathlon representing not just West High School, but all of Kern County. We get to spend even more Sunday afternoons together, and we get to learn more about Africa, and we get to eat more pizza.