me, Mr. Golenko, and the lovely Mrs. Cathy Haney at the State Awards Dinner 2/28/88
This post is going to feature a bit more of a personal slant because
1. I run the blog
2. I was on this Decathlon team
3. I have kept photographs and clippings and a box full of medals, which I imagine lots of people have squirreled away in their keepsake boxes. Not of AD, but of their "thing."
4. And that's entirely the point of the blog! To encourage others from the area to share their memories. So I'm leading by example.
Academic Decathlon was started in 1968, the same year Dobie opened its doors, in Orange County, CA with the idea that academic competition should extend to all levels of students. It was founded by the superintendent Robert Peterson, who envisioned a:
new kind of competition that would give students of different achievement levels a chance to shine. Other academic contests, he said, rewarded only top-level students who didn't need the motivation.
Peterson's remedy was to require decathlon teams to include B and C students along with A students for the 10-event contest, which includes math, art and speech.
The program gives A students the chance to show their strengths and B students the chance to improve, but most important, it has the power to change C students' lives, said Marvin Cobb, executive director of the California Academic Decathlon.
"He recognized that these diamonds in the rough needed something to make going to school worthwhile," Cobb said. From Peterson's LA Times Obit, 2003
I was one of those diamonds in the rough. Coming out of private school into public junior high, I'd held my own academically and did well through my freshman year. But by sophomore year, distracted by boys and clubs and general teenage nuttiness, I'd fallen behind in subjects that didn't come naturally, especially in Mr. Golenko's Latin class and Mr. Parlangeli's Chemistry class. I could fly by in English, but only tread water in Geometry. So, by my senior year, I had a solid "Varsity" average that qualified me, in Academic Decathlon language, as a "C-Student." These averages were based solely on the previous two years' grades. [As an aside, I held a 4.0 and up my freshman and senior years, but I was Varsity golden, looking at only sophomore and junior grades.]
Mr. Golenko, never impressed by my performance in his Latin classes sophomore and junior year, still saw something worth pushing, and asked if I would join his AD team for the 1987-88 school year.
At the time I came to it, the 10 events were as follows:
1. Economics (macro and micro)
3. Fine Arts
5. Language and Literature
8. Social Sciences
10. Super Quiz
Your team was comprised of three students in each of the three categories, generally referred to as "A" "B" and "C" classifications, although AD preferred "Honors" (3.75 GPAs and above), "Scholastic" (3.0 - 3.74 GPA) and "Varsity" (2.99 and down). Students in the three divisions competed against students from other schools in the same classification, starting as district, then, if qualified, Regionals, State, and, finally, Nationals.
We started studying and quizzing over the material packets at the start of the school year, and it felt like that happened daily, both before school and after. Since I'd quit band at the last minute as the school year got underway, Mr. G filled that class slot as his classroom assistant, chiefly so he could direct more study hours for Decathlon. I remember having study sessions at the school on the weekends (in the temp building out back as Mr. G couldn't get a key to the main building at that time) as competitions got closer.
Here were some of us after a morning study session before school in early December
Only Lynne (back row, 4th from left) had been on the team the prior year.
At that time, there were no published guides, just the topics that each AD coach could research and present to his team for study, hopefully matching what the AD test makers might ask.
If you review those 10 categories above, you'll notice they pretty much cover EVERYTHING. It was broad knowledge preparation and we had tons of ground to cover. The Super Quiz category, which changes every year, was, for 1988 season, Aviation and Flight. As in, you had to actually learn some of the fundamentals of physics and how to fly a plane to be able to correctly answer questions.
The written tests were 30 minute timed 50 question tests you had to perform under pressure, surrounded by your peers and monitored by hawks in strange classrooms in unknown school buildings.
But they weren't all at your desk tests. The interview portion required you show up to a panel of strangers and wow them with your charm for seven interminable minutes.
The Speech portion required you write, memorize, and deliver your persuasive speech to another panel of strangers with aplomb and energy (4 minutes in length) and then tackle a speech on an unknown until that moment subject in which you must deliver a 2 minute impromptu speech.
The Essay portion was an previously unannounced topic in which you must craft a timed writing that would be judged by yet another panel of strangers on its merits and against everyone else in your classification.
And Super Quiz was the real test of nerves of steel, as you had to perform in front of a crowd of the general public, taking your spot at a table in the middle of a gym, with questions put up on the screen, and you with 7 seconds to answer, and then scored publicly. It was a relay event, with the Varsity taking the first set, Scholastic fielding the second, and Honors swooping in to answer the last of the questions. Your right or wrong answer about some question relating to the History of Aviation and Flight might just decide whether you team wins to move on or goes home in shame. No pressure.
Our district competition was hosted by Dobie in December, 1987. We'd been prepping since September.
Here was the list of curriculum for that year:
(this was during the District Superquiz portion, me far right)
Both Pasadena and Dobie qualified to regionals: Mr. Golenko as a coach for Dobie, and Mrs. Golenko as a coach for Pasadena. Both teams would go on to state, travelling together.
that was the score Mr. G expected of me.
Each test was a possible 1000 points, thus a perfect score on everything would be 10,000
our team photo at Hobby airport the morning we flew to Dallas for State Competition
here was a mingled group of Dobie Orange and Pasadena Green while we were in Dallas
our team after State awards We've all been clearly sweating.
The State Program
The top six (two from each division) were calculated in the overall score, so a total perfect team would equal 60,000. The numbers to the right of the team names were the team's score. The number to the left was where that would put them in contention for the top 3 slots that would advance to Nationals, held that year in San Antonio.
Out of 40 teams, we finished 24th. Only four years later, Mr. Golenko and Mrs. Haney would coach the Dobie team to #1 in the Nation, with a visit to the White House and college scholarships for every team member.
What I took away from my AD experience is nearly incalculable.
AD pushed me to learn how to study, to learn how to learn, in ways I'd not been exposed to in the classroom, or anywhere else.
It helped me hone skills in interview, speech, and writing that I used throughout my college experience and into my own classrooms as a teacher.
It also left me with a nearly unconquerable fear of public "testing" in front of a group of strangers. My disastrous inability to orally spell words I know very well any other time, in a charity spelling bee setting, brought back the same paralyzed idiocy I first encountered in Super Quiz. (They can't all be positive lessons, right?)