Competition gets tougher at county Academic Decathlon


Upper Lake High School's Academic Decathlon team are once again the county champs, and will head to the state meet in March. Courtesy photo.



LAKE COUNTY – Many of us might be able to name the president of the Confederacy, but could you name the men in President Abraham Lincoln's cabinet, put Civil War battles in order or answer questions about General Robert E. Lee's battle strategies? {sidebar id=56}

Maybe not, but students from Upper Lake High, Lower Lake High School, Middletown High School and Clear Lake High School got together Saturday to do just that in the Lake County Academic Decathlon, hosted by the Clear Lake High School at the Marge Alakszay Center.

At the end of a day of brain-draining competition, Upper Lake High School's team of decathletes had claimed victory after losing last year to Lower Lake, which ended a long-running winning streak.

Lower Lake High standout Kate Lyons, one of the day's top medal winners with 11 (seven of them gold), competed for the third time Saturday in the Honor division.

“I enjoyed it a lot more this year,” said Lyons, now a senior and in her final year of competition. She said she believed the competition was more fun because of the topic and her familiarity with the competition.

Upper Lake's Robert Pyle was his team's lead medal winner, with 10 medals of which five were golds.

Pyle and his teammates scored 34,939 out of a possible 60,000 points to take the win. Lower Lake High School won silver with a score of 32,205.

With the overall theme of “The Civil War,” Lower Lake High took the gold medal on the Super Quiz competition which is based upon this theme.

Upper Lake Head Coach Christina Moore – assisted this year by teacher Lance Kraft – said the county competition has become increasingly tougher, with all of the schools putting out greater efforts. She recognized Lower Lake High School – last year's county winner – as a particularly strong competitor.

Coming off of Saturday's competition, Lower Lake's coach, Nancy Harby, said, “I just could not be any prouder of my kids.”

Harby echoed Moore's assessment of the high quality of Lake County's academic competition, which she said is a matter of pride for the whole county.

Those skills also have placed well at the state competition, said Harby. She pointed to Upper Lake's 2004 state win in Division 3, and her own team's fifth-place Division 3 last year, following Lower Lake's county win.

“We're right in there with the best of them,” said Harby.

Moore has a class of 15 students who study year-round for the Academic Decathlon competition. They began preparing for the Civil War-themed testing last May, as soon as the topic was announced, using specially prepared study guides and other materials.

Harby, a history teacher who has been coaching the Lower Lake team for eight years, also leads an elective Academic Decathlon preparation class of 12 students. “This is a group of very different kids who come together for this amazing experience.”

Watching the students rise to the competition's rigorous demands is “a wonder to behold,” said Harby.

Both she and Moore say they emphasize expanding their students' study skills in preparation for their college careers.

While it's fun to win, Moore said it's most important to see results like that of one former decathlete, who competed as a C student but who today is enrolled at Chico State, where she's an A student.

“That's why I kept doing it,” Moore said of continuing to coach, despite the fact that she had planned to step down last year.

Harby added that she emphasizes good sportsmanship and the concept of the worthy opponent. It's hard to come in second, she said, but she nevertheless leads her students in giving standing ovations to their opponents when they win. “We know how hard it is to get there.”

Local decathletes make an annual trip to San Joaquin Delta College for the Academic Decathlon Fine Arts Day, as Harby's and Moore's students did last fall. There, they hear lectures about the decathlon topic, see performances of literary pieces that relate to the topic they're studying and hear the Stockton Symphony Orchestra.

Lyons said meeting other teams at events and competitions has been a great experience. “All the kids who are involved tend to be really cool and just really nice people.”

Moore, who has been leading Upper Lake's team for 12 years, also had wanted to take her students to see a Civil War battle reconstruction this year. But the team's members – including athletes and members of student government – “were going in 10 different directions” and couldn't manage the trip.

Upper Lake's team will now move to the state competition, which takes place from March 7 through 10 at California State University, Sacramento.

At the state Academic Decathlon competition, each team member participates in 10 grueling events including mathematics, economics, music, art, language and literature and science.

In addition, the decathletes also will perform prepared and impromptu speeches, write an essay on a given topic and are interviewed by a panel of judges.

The final event, the Super Quiz, an academic relay, will be held at Cal State Sacramento's Memorial Auditorium before a cheering crowd.

Moore said her teaching method is to have students teach each other and learn how to study. She said the students already know the material, so now it's a matter of looking at the topic in new ways so they can compete at the more rigorous state level.

Although Moore is retiring as a teacher, she said on Saturday night the students were trying to talk her into teaching the Academic Decathlon class next year. She said her plans aren't yet firm.

Harby said she has a lot of admiration for Moore and the Upper Lake Academic Decathlon program. “They're just outstanding – great competitors.”

She also thanked Clear Lake's coach, Jim Rogers, for hosting this year's event.

Harby said she'll “absolutely” continue leading the Lower Lake team next year, and will begin working with her students now on the basics – literature, economics, etc. to prepare.

“It feeds my soul,” she said.

Lake County competition final standings

Individual medals and team titles won at Lake County’s Saturday competition include:





Language and Literature





Overall Varsity Category

Overall Scholastic Category

Overall Honor Category

Highest Scorer at Each School

Super Quiz (written and relay portion combined)

Overall Winning Team

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