The academic decathlon victories keep coming for Irvine’s Woodbridge High School, which has just won its sixth county title in seven years.
Woodbridge’s decathletes and their coach were announced as the 2023 Orange County Academic Decathlon champs on Friday night during an exuberant awards show at Orange Coast College, where hundreds of students were presented with individual and team medals.
“Beyond the challenges of preparation and competition, this team realized that once you are a decathlete, you are forever bound together with a very special group of teammates who become lifelong friends,” said Woodbridge Coach Mike Nakaue, whose teams have now won seven championships since 2006.
After outpacing squads from 34 other schools in the most recent two-day county contest, the Warriors are headed back to the California Academic Decathlon, where they placed third last year. And they’ll have some company from Orange County — but more on that in a minute.
“The 12 Woodbridge High decathletes realized quickly that the Academic Decathlon preparation is demanding and the challenges presented would stretch their efforts,” Nakaue said. “They do this not because it is easy but because it is hard. The competition is supposed to be hard and challenges all facets of learning. This year’s team accepted the challenges with highly favorable results. They took the position that they wanted to learn more and it was ‘never enough.'”
Staged at the county, state and national levels, academic decathlons are 10-event scholastic competitions that test students’ mettle with multiple-choice exams, speeches, interviews, essay assignments and the action-packed Super Quiz Relay, which is held in front of a live audience. Presented annually by OCDE and the Orange County Academic Decathlon Association, the Orange County Academic Decathlon took place over two consecutive Saturdays starting on Jan. 28.
“The Academic Decathlon is an opportunity for students to showcase their knowledge and skills across a wide range of academic subjects, from art and literature to economics and science,” said Orange County Department of Education Coordinator Kristin Rigby. “We are proud to see the high level of participation and competitiveness in this year’s decathlon, and we offer our congratulations to Woodbridge High School on their victory.”
OC’s top performers
After winning its first Orange County Academic Decathlon in 2006, Woodbridge rolled off four straight titles from 2017 to 2020 before taking the championship again in 2022. This year, in a contest that featured nearly 550 scholars from 35 schools, the Warriors scored 45,208.8 total points, enough to reclaim the top spot and earn yet another trip to the highly competitive California Academic Decathlon in March.
They’ll be joined there by six other Orange County schools: Valencia, University, Trabuco Hills, Westminster and Kennedy high schools and Fairmont Preparatory Academy were also invited to the state decathlon based on their overall team scores.
Here’s a breakdown of the highest-performing Orange County teams and their overall scores. (Schools advancing to the state competition are in bold.)
Woodbridge High, Irvine Unified School District, 45,208.8 (first place)
Valencia High, Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District, 40,241.7 (second place)
University High, Irvine Unified School District, 37,917.4 (third place)
Trabuco Hills High, Saddleback Valley Unified School District, 35,678.5 (fourth place)
Westminster High, Huntington Beach Union High School District, 33,335.0 (fifth place)
Garden Grove High, Garden Grove Unified School District, 31,870.4
Troy High, Fullerton Joint Union High School District, 31,127.9
Kennedy High, Anaheim Union High School District, 34,215.7 (first place)
Fairmont Prep Academy, a private high school in Anaheim, 33,985.4 (second place)
Esperanza High, Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District, 31,395.9 (third place)
Beckman High, Tustin Unified School District, 30,378.3 (fifth place)
Yorba Linda High, Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District, 29,535.2
San Juan Hills High, Capistrano Unified School District, 29,278.3
Segerstrom High, Santa Ana Unified School District, 28,588.2
Santiago High, Garden Grove Unified School District, 29,835.0 (first place)
Bolsa Grande High, Garden Grove Unified School District, 28,502.9 (second place)
Marina High, Huntington Beach Union High School District, 28,247.3 (third place)
Godinez Fundamental High, Santa Ana Unified School District, 28,240.1 (fourth place)
Portola High, Irvine Unified School District, 27,585.7 (fifth place)
Rosary Academy, a private school in Fullerton, 27,135.3
Aliso Niguel High, Capistrano Unified School District, 26,293.2
Cypress High, Anaheim Union High School District, 26,273.4
Legacy Magnet Academy, Tustin Unified School District, 25,517.3
Valley High, Santa Ana Unified School District, 17,680.2
JSerra Catholic High, a private school in San Juan Capistrano, 17,069.5
A decathlon of studies
Interestingly enough, the history of the academic decathlon can be traced back to former Orange County Superintendent Dr. Robert Peterson, who envisioned “a decathlon of studies” while he was a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany. The very first decathlon took place at Bolsa Grande High School in Garden Grove in 1968.
Today, academic decathlons feature nine-member teams competing for the highest scores on a series of multiple-choice exams, speeches, interviews and essay assignments. The rules dictate that each team must have three “Honor” students (those with GPAs of 3.80 and above), three “Scholastic” students (GPAs of 3.20 to 3.79) and three “Varsity” students (GPAs of 3.199 and below).
Contests culminate with the popular Super Quiz Relay, which returned this year to an in-person showdown in front of cheering fans after two years of COVID-19 precautions.
“It was truly exciting to see the students back in person, competing together again after two years of virtual events,” Rigby said. “The energy and excitement in the room was palpable, and it was inspiring to see students connecting as teammates, rallying around one another and rising to face challenges together.”
This year’s Academic Decathlon theme is “The American Revolution and the New Nation,” and Orange County’s sponsors are NuVision Federal Credit Union, Del Taco Restaurants Inc., Aeries Software, Townsend Public Affairs and Centigex.
The top scoring teams from across the state — Granada Hills and El Camino Real charter high schools have become perennial juggernauts — now get to prepare for the California Academic Decathlon, which is set to take place in Santa Clara from March 24 through March 26. The highest scoring squads from that contest will then head to the U.S. Academic Decathlon, which will be held in Frisco, Texas April 27 through April 29.
For now, Woodbridge remains focused on California’s decathlon, and Nakaue says his team is excited to return to an in-person format.
“They will do their best in representing Orange County, Woodbridge High, and all the other decathletes who were unable to attend in the past due to the pandemic,” he said.