Middle-school students to demonstrate knowledge at pentathlon

dyawger@mercedsunstar.com March 4, 2014 

Wendell Hollis’ seventh-graders at Le Grand Elementary School have been preparing for Saturday’s Academic Pentathlon since early November, putting in plenty of hours studying to measure their academic skills.

Hollis, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade social studies and history, is hoping his students are rewarded for their diligence. He said they have already inspired younger students at their school to want to join the team when it’s their time.

More than 280 sixth- through eighth-grader from throughout Merced County will take part in the Academic Pentathlon at Golden Valley High School.

After weeks of intense study and practice, junior high teams will compete in knowledge of literature, math, science, social science and the Super Quiz.

Hollis, who has coached pentathlon teams for about seven years, said his students meet three times a week, studying for 35 to 45 minutes. They also have devoted several Saturday mornings to practicing and quizzing each other, going over the material and checking facts.

“It’s satisfying if your team of nine gets a medal after a lot of hard work,” Hollis said. “It inspires the lower kids. The difference between athletic and academic competition is you only have one time to meet. I’m looking for big things and hoping they do well.”

Hollis also coaches baseball, competing against teams from McSwain, Winton and Weaver schools.

Valerie LeDuc, student events coordinator with the Merced County Office of Education, said the pentathlon is a precursor for academic decathlons for high school students. She said participation keeps growing in the pentathlon, which is up to 32 nine-member teams.

Le Duc said quiz competition differs from other written testing formats. A relay-type competition will take place among all the teams by grade level. The Super Quiz is the only part of testing that is open to the public, and it is one of the most memorable and exciting parts of the Academic Pentathlon competition.

“Before a crowd of cheering parents, students and supporters, team members will engage in a battle of wits against other participating teams,” Le Duc said.

Sixth-graders will answer questions on ancient Greece. Seventh-graders have been studying medieval Africa and Islam, and eighth-graders have been focusing on U.S. history and geography from 1600 to 1800, LeDuc said.

The Super Quiz kicks off at 1 p.m. in the Golden Valley gym.

Each team has nine members, three each from honor, scholastic and varsity divisions. The team composition gives students a chance to develop skills working with others of different ability levels, motivation and interests.

The awards ceremony will be 7 p.m. March 12 in the Golden Valley High School gym.

For more information about this event, contact LeDuc at (209) 381-5910.

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

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