Merced High tops decathlon for sixth year

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comFebruary 4, 2014 

The nine-student Merced High School team won the Merced County Academic Decathlon, the sixth year in a row the campus has come out on top. The all-day event took place in the Merced College Theater.

Ninety-nine students from 10 county high schools took part in Saturday’s event. Students had to field questions in art, economics, language and literature, mathematics, music, social science and science.

This year’s theme was World War I, and students’ knowledge was tested through quizzes, oral communications tests, essays, prepared and impromptu speeches and interviews.

Merced High was the overall high-scoring school. Atwater High took second and Golden Valley, third.

Merced High Principal John Olson said students worked hard in preparation for for the decathlon. Joel Sebastian, U.S. history teacher and academic coach since 2000, also praised his team, which encompasses students with a wide range of grade-point averages.

“They’ve put in a tremendous amount of study in 10 subject areas,” Sebastian said. “The kids really stepped up; I’m really proud of them. They not only have to know the tests but must be good public speakers, write well and memorize speeches.”

Merced High decathlon team members are Aditya Kumarasamy, Alyssa Lawry, Steven Boggs, Carlos Eltagunde, John Richey, Luana Xiong, Anthony Porter, Celina Alcala and Alexus Cabanyog.

Valerie LeDuc, special events coordinator for the Merced County Office of Education, said there are three academic levels represented in competition: honors students with A grades, scholastic students with B and C grades and varsity-level students with C grades and lower.

LeDuc said decathlon competitors approach the event seriously. Participation in decathlons helps students receive college scholarships and earn extracurricular credit toward college or university admission. A camaraderie develops among decathlon participants as they prepare for the event, she added, and the event itself opens up good social networking opportunities.

Competing students usually get their packet of study materials in late September or early October. Teams compete for awards, scholarships and a chance to represent the county March 21-23 at the State Championship Academic Decathlon in Sacramento.

Participating students were from Atwater, Golden Valley, Le Grand, Los Banos, Valley Community in Atwater and Los Banos, Merced, Gustine, Buhach Colony and Delhi high schools.

The decathlon’s sponsorship partners include the Hattie Givens Testamentary Trust, Kemper CPA Group LLP, Educational Employees Credit Union, Merced College and the Merced County Office of Education.

In addition, the Merced School Employees Federal Credit Union donates $5,000 to sponsor the Robert Wayne Scholarship Program. Wayne, who died in November 2009, was co-founder and longtime manager of the credit union.

The schools pay a $750 participation fee. Of that, $500 is matched by the credit union’s Robert Wayne Scholarship Program. This brings the scholarships to $1,000 at each school, with one $500 scholarship and two $250 scholarships.

Sun-Star staff writer Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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