Woodbridge decathletes strive to keep building on past teams’ legacy

Fresh off their win at the Orange County Academic Decathlon on Feb. 10, the Woodbridge High School decathletes are celebrating their success by gearing up for their next competitive feat. 

The team has earned its sixth county win for the high school in the past seven years, earning Woodbridge a 12th straight appearance at next month’s California Academic Decathlon. The decathletes scored a total of 45,208.8 points among 500 plus scholars from 34 other schools in the region. 

Since June of last year, the 12-student team in Irvine Unified has dedicated three days a week — at minimum — to preparing for the academic decathlon season. During practices, academic decathlon coach and retired biology teacher Mike Nakaue uses his motto, “Keep improving” as a reminder for the group to consistently put their best effort forward. 

Before the school year starts, students compete for a spot on the team and in the nine-member rotation that participates in all 10 events. The unpredictable nature of the academic decathlon is what the students say helps keep them motivated to always be prepared. 

“When you can create an atmosphere that involves good study skills and values competition, it helps to maximize your efforts,” Nakaue said. 

Commitment to the team

Through hours-long practice sessions and subject research outside of school, the team works to continually improve on the legacy left by Woodbridge’s academic decathlon alumni. Their studies include topics ranging from language and literature to science while covering non-testing areas of focus like interviews, essays and speeches. 

Nakaue attributes the students’ level of success to their commitment to the team. He said each member has shown a passion for learning and in doing their best for their peers. 

“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 decathlete Deena Sun. 

As coordinator of Woodbridge’s academic decathlon for the past 27 years, Nakaue has seen this program help form bonds between the students that outlast their time on the team. 

Victoria Sun, a second-year decathlete, said the friendship she shares with her teammates makes this experience even more enjoyable, leading them to spend additional time together outside of their weekly meetings.

Higher stakes, stiffer competition

With less than 12 practice days away from their arrival at the state competition, the team has not shown any signs of slowing down their study schedule. For now, they are focused on discussion of potential testing subjects, like science and music, while refining their personal essays. 

The Woodbridge high schoolers will put all their study hours and practice questions to the test on March 11 and March 25 to face off against California’s top academic decathlon teams for a shot at the national championship.

Despite the higher stakes and stiffer competition, seniors Deena and Victoria said their goals remain the same. 

“We want to be able to prove to ourselves that we can improve on our county scores. We did pretty well there but we want to do the absolute best we can,” Deena said. “It would be really rewarding if in the process of trying to improve on our county scores, we did manage to get second or even — who knows — first in state.” 

Joining the Woodbridge decathletes at the state contest will be fellow Orange County teams from Kennedy, Trabuco Hills, Valencia, University and Westminster high schools along with Fairmont Preparatory Academy.