The last time Mar Vista High School had an academic decathlon team was over five years ago; this school year it has made a very welcomed return. Science teacher John Ashley has taken the reigns to become the new coach.
Academic Decathlon is a challenging test of critical thinking and intellectuality. Each team consists of six to nine students, with grade point averages ranging 3.0 and higher. Each player on the team will participate in different quizzes, regarding specific subjects, which include art, economics, literature, mathematics, music, science, social science. They will have time to prepare a speech, take part in an impromptu speech and an interview. And players will also have to write a timed essay and read a novel. This year the students will be reading Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”
Another segment that the team competes in is the Super Quiz segment, different from the quizzes on varying subjects. This is a quiz in which every subject is tested upon.
Each event in the decathlon is related to a specific event every year; this year, the theme is “In Sickness and In Health: An exploration of illness and wellness.”
The decathlon has four rounds. The first has no scoring, and is primarily a scrimmage, the second consists of competitions in several regions in the state. The several winners of the second round go to round three, the state championship in Sacramento. The top two competitors in round three go into round four, that being the national championship. With such a wide variety of subjects, competition is fierce.
Being a first year coach is not new to Ashley. He has previously helped start other clubs and programs within Mar Vista, including the Poseidon Academy and the fishing club.
“I was told that there was a possibility an outside coach might come in to be the coach,” he said. “I didn’t like the idea of an outside coach working with Mar Vista’s best and brightest, and I was curious to learn more about Acad[emic] League and Dec[athlon] so I decided to volunteer for the position.”
Players chose to join the academic decathlon for various reasons. Senior Damiana Young said, “I have done sports all of my years at Mar Vista and I feel that this will challenge me in a way sports haven’t.”
Makaila Cabrera, a junior, said, “I’ve considered joining for a while and I just wasn’t sure if I could tackle it along with sports, but Mr. Ashley assured me that if I put the time in it, everything would be fine.”
When asked how he prepares his team, Ashley said, “I am very taken with the commitment that Academic Decathlon students have to the team - in fact, I do very little to prepare the students, they are intrinsically motivated.”
This is visibly true, as at the recent meetings, there has been an average of around ten students actively participating. Team members also seem to be acknowledged with what they are good at, as well as with what needs some work. Cabrera said, “I think overall I am very good at anything that has to do with academics, as well as public speaking, but I think that I will struggle in grasping the material for the art based test.”
Senior Angel Sarabia said, “I think my strengths for the decathlon are going to be based on my interests for the sciences involved in various diseases and health as the theme this year is “In Sickness and Health.” I think my weakness would be that I tend to get in my own head about things, and I might have the right answer but I’ll overthink it and pick the wrong one.”
The most recent meeting was preparation for the practiced speech. Ashley said, “Our ‘practices’ have been more about learning what the competition is all about and lately we’ve begun working on the speech portion of the event.”
Some students are anxious about this portion of the event, as Sarabia said, “The speeches sound very intimidating and I’m very nervous about them because one of them is impromptu, and I am the kind of person who needs to plan before or else i start to jumble my thoughts.”
This team is somewhat of a landmark achievement for the high school, as it has not had a decathlon team for some time.
“My goal for the team is to provide the motivation and organization to prepare each of the Academic Decathlon members for the competition in January;” said Ashley. “I’d like to see us field a complete team (three students at each GPA level) but most of all, the overall goal is to have fun while working hard, discipline and hard work can go together with fun. I’d like to see that happen this year.”
The team has about half a year to prepare for the first round. Good luck to them!