Education Matters: Fresno County Academic Decathlon


The theme of this year’s Academic Decathlon – the 60s. Teams representing 28 different high schools filled the gym at Central High East for a competition that taught one school to never quit and showed another they could compete.

“We were all shocked, and our excitement – we were really happy about it,” said Darius Cuevas, a student at Kingsburg High School.

Darius, 15, attends Kingsburg High – a school that hadn’t had a team participate in the Fresno County Academic Decathlon for more than 30 years. That changed with teacher Daniel Albers

“When I came here, there was no team. I knew there had been a team years ago and decided that I could coach it, and I was really excited about bringing that opportunity to these kids,” Albers said.

Albers, who teaches English, had coached a team at his previous school site with winning success. At Kingsburg he not only had the challenge of putting together a team but explaining what the academic decathlon was.

“I never heard of academic decathlon before, so it would be pretty fun to challenge myself,” student Cody Woods said. “I thought it was a game show honestly because of the super quiz.”

Not knowing what to expect, these students – all freshman – put in their time studying – preparing to be tested in 10 different subject areas with content from a time in history that was foreign to them.

It was a soundtrack that would become familiar to the teams participating in the 37 annual Academic Decathlon. The music and the cheering crowd greeted each school as they entered the gym.

“It was a little bit intimidating just seeing all these other schools just wearing all their fancy uniforms seeing all experience and stuff,” student Jack Doolittle said.

Kingsburg may not have had the experience as perennial first place winner University High – nor its cheering section, but Alber’s team did just fine taking home a number of medals and was among the top teams in its division.

Albers said, “It feels amazing. I didn’t know what to expect going into it, and when we kept getting medals, it was very exciting then when we got second in our division. It’s just an amazing experience.”

But the surprise of the evening was Fresno Unified’s Edison High School.

Every year Edison and University High battle it out for first place, but Edison hadn’t won the top spot in four years until Saturday night.

“It’s amazing to beat a team like University who’s going to bring their a game every time,” Edison High Coach Gary Mrkaich said.

Before this win, Edison appeared to be a school that had given up on itself. Two determined students wouldn’t let their school quit.

“I would say it is one of the biggest achievements that we’ve had,” student Madeleine Fischer said. “We started out at the beginning of the year with three people on our team, and Alia and I were going to different classes and trying to recruit people with the hope that we wouldn’t have to quit and find a different activity to do. And then we managed to pull a team together and do this.”

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