A competition cut short

Covid-19 stole Academic Decathlon shot at being crowned state champions.

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California Academic Decathlon Organization

Eyes on the prize, the Academic Decathlon is ready to compete.

By Andy Nickolas Joachin

Nine bright students. Seven multiple-choice tests. Two subjective events. An essay. This is what the Academic Decathalon prepares for every day. We spend countless hours reading and studying to prepare for competitions where we go head to head with other schools.  

“We studied the material around two hours a day for six days a week. We tried our best to have after school sessions at least twice a week. It was a good amount of studying and it’s what allowed us to qualify for the state competition,” said senior teammate Kathy Duong. 

Our long hours of studying and dedication proved to pay off when we were informed that we made it to city and state competitions. In previous years we’ve had individual students win medals at state competition but we were never able to take the title of state champions home as a team.

Now was our chance to change that and prove that our hours of practice for Academic Decathlon would pay off and we looked forward to it. 

Then the pandemic hit, dimming what was supposed to be one of the brightest moments for our team.

“I remember the day it was announced, a gloomy rainy day and it was calm when Mr. Mitchell gave us the news” Duong recalls. “I like to think that we were all prepared for the news, but it was disappointing nonetheless,”

We were discouraged and felt our chance had been taken away from us.

The state competition that was scheduled to be held in Sacramento was canceled.

 “The journey we went through together from after school sessions to competing in city competitions, made the Academic Decathlon experience much more rewarding,” Doung said when reflecting on the practices. “Missing out on the state competition would not have impacted how fun being with the team was.”

the Academic Decathlon organizers thought they’d pulled together a successful backup plan–organize an online proctored competition at each of the 66 competing highschools.

Organizers ran into issues that couldn’t be worked around since school campuses across the state were shut down in an urgent attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

The solution to declaring the Academic Decathlon state champions was adding points from a new essay contest to schools’ points earned from the previous regional competition. Using this method to award a winner led to El Camino Real winning the title of Academic Decathlon state championships. 

This is not the way our competition should have ended and the state competition should have been completely canceled instead of being hosted from a computer screen.

How can judges determine if students cheated?

The answer is they can’t and the lack of secure monitoring the pandemic caused means that any of the participating schools could have been able to take the championship title home, including Van Nuys.

Despite our disappointment in losing the chance to earn a state champion title, we know the dedication we contributed is just as great.

“It felt like the school year just ended on a cliffhanger but I don’t regret it because we had good experiences. During the year I can say that I became closer with my teammates.”, said senior member Ayisha Harris.

Our team is grateful to have had the chance to compete with the top schools in California and we are confident that soon, Van Nuys will be crowned the Academic Decathlon state champions.