High schoolers compete in the 53rd annual Orange County Academic Decathlon

Around this time of year, hundreds of students would typically gather over two consecutive Saturdays to compete for individual and team honors at the Orange County Academic Decathlon.

Owing to the pandemic, large events are out. But the 53rd annual decathlon will go on, and in fact it’s already underway this month as a virtual event sponsored by Del Taco, NuVision Federal Credit Union, Disney VoluntEARs, Aeries Software, Frontline Education and Achieve3000. This year’s theme is the Cold War.

“I’m so happy we have been able to offer the program this year,” OCDE Coordinator Kristin Rigby said. “Students have missed out on so many opportunities due to the pandemic, but academic decathlon isn’t one of them.”

Team of students wearing masks

Students from Esperanza High School’s Academic Decathlon team pose for a group photo. This year, the 10-event scholastic competition will take place virtually at the county, state and national levels.

For the uninitiated, Academic Decathlons are 10-event scholastic contests staged at the county, state and national levels. Nine-member teams compete for the highest scores on objective tests, speeches, interviews and essay assignments.

Each team must have three “Honor” students (those with GPAs of 3.80 and above), along with three “Scholastic” students (GPAs of 3.20 to 3.79) and a trio of “Varsity” students (GPAs of 3.199 and below).

About 350 students taking part

Leveraging the United States Academic Decathlon’s online testing platform, an essay competition kicked off this year’s decathlon on Jan. 13. Approximately 350 students from 32 schools are participating.

“I feel very lucky that they had a system that allowed us to transition to online testing without having to develop something ourselves or research new platforms,” Rigby said.

The speech and interview competitions started Saturday, Jan. 23 and will resume this Saturday, Jan. 30, all via Zoom. Rigby said more than 80 community volunteers are supporting these events as judges and speech room moderators. They include representatives from JP Morgan Chase, Toastmasters and OCDE, along with former decathletes.

The final seven events will take place on Saturday, Feb. 6, again using the national Academic Decathlon’s online testing platform. A virtual awards ceremony is scheduled for Feb. 17.

Popular Super Quiz Relay on hold

Unfortunately, one of OCAD’s signature events won’t be featured this year. The Super Quiz Relay, which typically caps the decathlon with a cheering crowd inside a gymnasium, doesn’t quite translate to teleconferencing platforms and will be put on hold for now.

But the top-performing teams will still advance to the California Academic Decathlon in March, and the National Finals are set for April. Both will be virtual.

As we’re fond of noting around here, the Academic Decathlon was the brainchild of former Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Peterson, who first envisioned “a decathlon of studies” while serving as a prisoner of war during World War II. The first contest was held at Bolsa Grande High School in 1968.

“Our students have continued to meet virtually, and I’m proud that we’ve found ways to offer nearly all of the AcaDeca events in a virtual environment,” Rigby told the OCDE Newsroom. “So even though the program will look different this year, our students are still being challenged academically and experiencing team camaraderie.”

For more information about the Academic Decathlon, including how to participate at your school, visit OCDE’s Academic Decathlon 101 webpage.