High school teams prep for the 49th annual Orange County Academic Decathlon

Decathletes, take your marks.

Over the next two Saturdays, 43 local high schools will participate in the 49th annual Orange County Academic Decathlon, competing for top honors and an invitation to represent Orange County at the California Academic Decathlon.

Students at the Orange County Academic Decathlon
Students compete in the action-packed Super Quiz Relay during last year’s Orange County Academic Decathlon.

This year’s decathlon is presented by the Orange County Academic Decathlon Association and OCDE with support from community members and sponsors, including NuVision Federal Credit Union, Del Taco LLC, the Orange County Register and Illuminate Education. 

Participating students will kick off the communications portion of the event on Saturday, Jan. 28 by delivering prepared and impromptu speeches, engaging in personal interviews and writing essays. Approximately 150 community volunteers will assist by serving as speech and interview judges.

The following week, on Saturday, Feb. 4, decathletes will take 30-minute multiple-choice tests in art, economics, literature, mathematics, music, science and social science. (Excluding math, each test will incorporate the 2016-17 theme, “World War II.”) The day will culminate with the Super Quiz Relay, a high-energy contest that resembles a quiz show and sounds like a sporting event, with parents and classmates boisterously cheering on their favorite squads from the sidelines.

The Super Quiz Relay is open to the public and will take place at 2:30 p.m. in the Westminster High School gymnasium, located at 14325 Goldenwest St. in Westminster.

Founded in 1968 by former Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Peterson, Academic Decathlons are 10-event scholastic contests staged at the county, state and national levels. Nine-member teams compete for the highest scores on multiple-choice exams, speeches, interviews and essay assignments, concluding with the Super Quiz Relay. Each team must include three “Honor” students (those with GPAs of 3.75 or above), three “Scholastic” students (GPAs of 3.00 to 3.74) and three “Varsity” students (GPAs of 2.99 or below).

Along with the commitment and content knowledge, academic decathlons promote communication and collaboration, considered key components of a 21st-century education.

In Orange County, decathletes report spending an average of 20 to 25 hours a week preparing for the big event, according to OCDE Program Specialist Kristin Rigby. About 10 of those hours involve working with coaches and teammates during after-school meetings; the remaining practice time is spent studying alone or with teammates outside of school.

“Teamwork plays a crucial role in the preparation process,” Rigby said. “Teammates hold one another to high expectations by creating tests and quizzes for each other, hosting competition scrimmages, dedicating time to practicing and analyzing each other’s prepared and impromptu speeches, as well as perfecting their personal interview techniques. Students who are stronger at one academic subject often tutor and coach their teammates.”

Top honors, medals and scholarships will be awarded at the OCAD Awards Ceremony at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 10 in the Bill Medley Auditorium at Santa Ana High School. For more information, visit the Orange County Department of Education’s Academic Decathlon page, or contact OCDE Program Specialist Kristin Rigby at krigby@ocde.us.