MMMM — Fried dough sizzles in the pan. This food, common in the 1930s during the Great Depression, was served at the Academic Decathlon's kick-off presentation last month. Mother Lode News photo by Shelly Thorene.

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Academic decathletes hit the books

By December 8, 2010

MMMM — Fried dough sizzles in the pan. This food, common in the 1930s during the Great Depression, was served at the Academic Decathlon's kick-off presentation last month. Mother Lode News photo by Shelly Thorene.

The 2010-11 Academic Decathlon will tackle a heavy topic — the Great Depression (not to be confused with the economic drag of today).

On Nov. 18 students and coaches for the four participating El Dorado County high schools got into the spirit of the 1930s with Dust Bowl-era music and food as they prepared for the long hours of practice for the local competition in February.

“Triple the unemployment we have now, take away food stamps, unemployment pay and imagine that your bank closes,” said Mel Chapman, one of the musicians performing and instructing at the event. “No bail outs, no protection at all. That was the Great Depression and the focus of the music of the time.”

The Decathlon’s theme novel is “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. Stew and fried dough, food the fictional Joads and real-life Dust Bowl migrants might have eaten on the road, along with fresh fruit they picked when they arrived in California, were served at the Decathlon opener.

Mel Chapman, Tom Gunterman and Joanie Stouffer performed some of the Dust Bowl music, including several songs written by Woody Guthrie whose music typified the era’s problems.

It was a fun practice and get together for the teams participating in the grueling competition coming up Feb. 2 and 5. Decathlon team members from El Dorado, Oak Ridge, Ponderosa and Union Mine high schools shared learning and social time.

The Academic Decathlon is a 10-event scholastic competition for high school students started in 1968 by Orange County Superintendent Dr. Robert Powers. It became a national event in 1981 and now has more than 40  states competing in the national championships.

Each participating high school has a team of nine members, three students from each of the three levels — Honor, with grade point averages between 3.75 and 4.00; Scholastic, with GPAs between 3.00 and 3.74 and Varsity, with GPAs between 0 and 2.99.

All team members compete in each of the events and can win individual medals as well as contributing to the team score. The teams may have many more than nine members, but only nine will participate during the competition, typically the nine with the highest scores.

There are seven objective tests — art, music, social science, math, economics, language and literature — and three subjective competitions that include essay, interview and speech.

The essay, interview and speech competitions will be held on Feb. 2 at Union Mine High School.

Competition day with the Super Quiz and the awards ceremony will be Saturday, Feb. 5, at Union Mine.

Winner of the local competition progresses to the state competition in Sacramento where they will compete against former national winning teams. If they top other teams it’s on to the national competition.

“We have a small team of 11 this year,” said EDHS librarian and Decathlon coach Jo Avery, “but they are very motivated. Jennifer Hanson, my co-coach, is tremendous; she’s very competitive and focused and this team has really responded.”

EDHS  and Ponderosa High School plan to participate in the Dec. 11 Capitol City Scrimmage at California State University, Sacramento. Oak Ridge and Union Mine High School Decathletes may choose to participate as well.

“Hundreds of students come from all over Northern California to participate,” said Avery. “They take a number of written exams and win prizes, but the best part is when they get their scores because it lets them know where they’ve done well and which areas they need to work on. This year all of our team members are participating in the scrimmage.”

While some large high schools may have an actual Academic Decathlon class where decathletes prepare every day, the high schools in El Dorado County do not. Team members meet weekly to study together and do the rest on their own.

“Most of our studying is individual and it’s up to us,” said Kadra Rademacher, EDHS Decathlon team member.

“We were able to use Gifted and Talented funding this year to purchase Demi Dec, an online study guide that was created by former decathletes who really loved the competition and went on to college, but still wanted to be involved,” said Avery.

After the Capital City Scrimmage comes high school finals week and then only a month-and-a-half of cramming before the Feb. 2 local competition.

“The kids work through the holidays,” said Avery, “and these are kids who love to learn for the sake of learning, but we still try to make it fun for them.”

Avery encourages the team members to specialize and become knowledgeable in a specific area, in addition to the overall studying.

As the students listen to Tom Gunterman, teacher from Oak Ridge, demonstrate how the changing of the chords in a song can change the sound from happy to mournful and how the tension in a song can build by using the right chords, students are active participants and already very knowledgeable about the areas they will be held accountable for.

“This year in Academic Decathlon we are striving to emphasize the necessity of coming together as a team — to really show that we are only as strong as our weakest member,” said Jen McMahon, PHS co-captain and third year decathlete. “… we have the great fortune of having a highly motivated and innovative team.”

“Our team is fluid until after the Dec. 11, scrimmage, said PHS coach, Terri Kessler. “Then we’ll take the highest scoring students in each category.”

“It’s a great experience that everyone should be a part of. I have made awesome friends and look forward to participating again next year,” said Jordan Peterson, PHS co-captain and another third year decathlete.

EDHS Team: Tucker Chopp, Allison Whealton, Naomi Bastian, Sam Moffett, Kadra Rademacher, Allison Holmstedt, Brittney Martin, Ney Grant, Faythe Blackwell, Michaela Hughes. Coaches are Jo Avery and Jennifer Hanson.

PHS Team: John Hedmeck,Tyler North, Aaron Dinwiddie, Alicia Peterson, Jimmy Young, Kaitlin Clare Kessler, Kristie Weeks, Jacob Hansen, Sam Joseph, Joey Costello, Dolly Kapoor, Christine Redor, Jordan Peterson, Jen McMahon, Duncan Alexander. The coach is Terri Kessler.

ORHS Team: Ross Greer, Jane Quinsland, Ming Cong, Yasmin Pajouesh, Bill Cao, Layna Chen, Justin Hou, Jullianne Cassidy, Max Leograndis, Landon Nagao, Zack Brown, Kevin Mackin, Shivani Sharma,Uma Dingankar, Fanny Kuang, Mai Nguyen, Andrew Shimizu, Shane O’Rourke, Cody West, Andrew Barlowe. The coach is Jeff Hassian.

Wendy Schultz


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