OCDE recruits school teams for upcoming Academic Decathlon and Pentathlon events

At the California Academic Decathlon in March, Orange County students took home a total of 84 individual medals and six team award trophies — one of the county’s strongest showings in the statewide competition.

With hopes to make an even greater impact this year, the Orange County Department of Education is encouraging new high school and middle school students — along with their coaches — to register for the annual Orange County Academic Decathlon and Pentathlon.

Woodbridge High School students
Woodbridge High School decathletes win third place overall at the California Academic Decathlon in March.

Every year, students from differing achievement levels form teams to compete in both multiple-event contests, displaying their knowledge in a variety of subjects. This season, decathlon and pentathlon teams will answer questions based on the 2023-24 theme, “Technology and Humanity.”

Founded by former Orange County Superintendent Dr. Robert Peterson in 1968, the Academic Decathlon was created as a decathlon of studies, bringing together teams of nine high school students from each academic level — “Honor” students (those with GPAs of 3.8 and above), “Scholastic” students (GPAs of 3.20 to 3.79) and “Varsity” students (GPAs of 3.199 and below). 

“Academic Decathlon and Pentathlon are transformative programs where students come together, bond as a team and push each other to grow by taking on challenging tasks,” said Kristin Rigby, coordinator of academic events at OCDE.

Forging connections through competition

Throughout the contest, decathletes will complete multiple-choice exams across seven concentrations including science, mathematics, economics, literature and language arts, social science, art and music. In addition, they will perform speeches, participate in interviews and write timed essays to demonstrate their academic abilities.

For the final countywide competition, student teams will put their hard work to the test in the high-energy Super Quiz Relay, resembling a live sporting event.

Meanwhile, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students have the opportunity to compete in the Academic Pentathlon, featuring five events in the subject areas of fine arts, mathematics, literature, science and social science, and culminating with the Super Quiz Relay.

“Students improve their critical thinking and collaboration skills as well as their ability to persevere,” Rigby said. “Coaches consistently share that students grow immensely both socially and academically as a result of their participation in the programs.”

“We feel a lot of pride when we know that we’ve done well for the whole team and that we have represented the school well,” said Woodbridge High School decathlete Deena Sun in an interview earlier this year. Deena went on to help her team win third place statewide and first place in the county at last year’s contest.

The Orange County Academic Decathlon will span three days in January and February, while the Pentathlon contest will take place from March through May.

An orientation meeting for new Academic Decathlon coaches will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 12, and new Pentathlon coaches will meet on Wednesday, Sept. 27. Middle or high school educators interested in starting a program on their campus can contact OCDE Coordinator Kristin Rigby at 714-966-4435 or krigby@ocde.us.