The sky is gray; the sun is just barely peeking over the horizon. There is a cold bite in the air; icy winds whip throughout the campus. A light fog lingers in the hallways and some of the school’s night-lights are still on. Solitary footsteps echo off the empty walls as a group of 27 students meet in B-9 for the Academic Decathlon.
For these students, waking up before dawn and arriving at school before teachers was normal; all throughout the 2014-2015 school year they would make the same journey to class every single early morning. Their advisor, Mrs. Menter-Hartman, specifically selected each of these students to represent Corona High School at the 2015 Riverside County Academic Decathlon.
The Academic Decathlon is an annual competition in which students gather to compete in a multitude of events. Each year, the Academic Decathlon adopts a new topic to be the focus of that year’s competition. For the 2015 competition, the topic was “New Alternatives in Energy: Ingenuity and Innovation.”
The first leg of the competition took place on the last Saturday of January. On that day, the students dressed in their best attire, wrote an essay that pertained to this year’s topic, gave a prepared, four-minute speech concerning anything the student desired, and then delivered an impromptu speech based on prepared topics. The second leg of the decathlon was held on the first Saturday of February, and it was then that the students sat in the auditorium of Heritage High School and were tested on the Math, Literature, Science, Music, Art, Social Studies, and Economics, after those tests—and after a much-deserved break—all of the teams (nineteen in total, with Corona represented by two teams) gathered in Heritage High School’s gymnasium to partake in the Super Quiz..
The Super Quiz is an event in which students are shown a projected question related to any one of the subject areas and are given seven seconds to answer each question. The Super Quiz is divided into three divisions (as are each school’s team) according to Grade Point Averages. Varsity students have a GPA between 0 and 2.999, Scholastic students have a GPA between 3 and 3.749, and Honors students have a GPA between 3.75 and 4.00 or above. For the Super Quiz, all students competed only against others that were of their same division and their scores were categorized accordingly.
After a total of 36 questions, the Super Quiz was over. Students, teachers, parents, and administrators soon thereafter gathered in Heritage High School’s theater for the awards ceremony.
The night didn’t appear to be going in Corona’s favor. The majority of the medals that were awarded for each specific competition and for each GPA division were won by either Hemet High School (the reining champions), West Valley High School (last year’s runners up), or to Elsinore High School (who came in third place last year). By the end of the awards ceremony, Corona’s two teams (Red and Gold) had only accumulated two medals, Nazibah Chowdhury (senior) from Red Team and Madelaine Nguyen (junior) from Gold Team each won gold medals for their superb essays. Due to Corona’s blatant lack of awards, it appeared as though their top-five aspirations were not meant to be. It was generally agreed upon by Corona’s students that a fifth place finish would be ideal and would be the most realistic finish.
However, that was not the case.
Beaumont High School finished as the fifth best team in the county. As Beaumont cheered down the aisle and climbed the stage to collect their trophy, the Panthers were disheartened. Watching the students of Beaumont raise their trophy over their heads was akin to watching the Panthers’ hopes and aspirations ground into dust before their eyes. As the students of Corona hung their heads in shame and thought of the somber tension that would surely follow on the bus ride home, the host of the awards ceremony, once again alone on stage, stood at his podium, leaned closer to the microphone, and uttered words that would forever thereafter ring in the ears of the Panthers.
“And the fourth place team for the 2015 Riverside County Academic Decathlon is Corona High School Red Team.”
In a state of shock and disbelief, the Panthers of Corona’s Red team made their way to the stage and raised a trophy of their own so high above their heads it almost seemed prepared to pierce the boundaries of the heavens.
Even though the typical trifecta of schools dominated the top three (West Valley claimed first, Elsinore trailed at second, and Hemet fell from grace to a third place finish), all of Corona’s Panthers, from both the Red team and the Gold team, rejoiced at their unprecedented success. Because even though it was Corona’s Red Team that won fourth place, the students from the Gold Team were just as influential in Corona’s success. It is for that reason that the trophy belongs not to just the Red Team, nor to just Mrs. Menter-Hartman, but to all the students and teachers and faculty who were a part of Corona High School’s Academic Decathlon program.
Reflecting on Corona’s success, senior Vicky Le, who was in her fourth and final year in the Academic Decathlon, stated that “[Winning fourth place] was a huge surprise but a very good one. I was happy to know that all of the hard work we had put into this throughout the year had paid off in the best way possible. I’m happy we were able to be so successful in my last year competing and I know that Corona will only improve in the years to come.”
Gold Team Captain Stacy Jo, a senior, commented on how both Gold and Red team performed: “I’m just really glad that everyone got the chance to experience something so amazing and unique. Although we didn’t place, I feel as if the gold team really bonded over the year and especially through competing. I’m also really proud of Maddie for winning first place! I’m also so proud of Red Team for winning fourth place, and it’s great that their talents were able to shine brightly. Rather than separating the team into Gold and Red, we’re just Corona High School’s academic decathlon. We’re one team and practically one giant, nerdy family. I’m glad that I was blessed with Acadec and my fellow teammates this year!”
Words like these show just how much of a close-knit group this zero period class is. On a typical day, after the studying and competing is done, these students can be seen conversing and laughing and enjoying one another’s company. At the end of the day, these students come to this early morning class every day not so much for the thrill of competition or for the allurement of trophies, but more for the community that has been created in B-9. Corona’s Academic Decathlon is more than a club and far more than just a class, it’s a microcosm wherein students from all ages, all grade levels, all cliques, and all backgrounds come together to work together, to compete together, to persevere together. Not only has this organization found much success in the county competition, but it has also allowed for some of the school’s brightest students to gather together in an organization they can thrive in.