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Academic Decathlon

With the holiday season behind us, an electrical charge of anticipation seems to be coursing through West Valley, Hemet High, and Tahquitz High School. The time has come for the three high school’s Academic Decathlon teams to compete in the Riverside County Office of Education’s Academic Decathlon Competition. Students answer questions focused on the World War II era in Nuclear and Atomic Physics, Social Studies, Literature, Mathematics, Art History, Music, give an impromptu speech, write an essay, and are interviewed by a panel of judges. The three Hemet schools that compete in the county competition finished last year within the top 10 spots and for the past 11 years a Hemet school has been crowned the county winner! 

With a track record like that, you can imagine these teams do not take the competition lightly. Students in Academic Decathlon can be seen giving every spare moment to study for the upcoming competition. They come in before school, give up their lunches, and even stay after school to study. The two-day competition began Saturday, January 28th which was closed to the public. This Saturday, February 4th, students will compete in the Super Quiz, where they take turns solving difficult multiple choice challenges in front of a live audience. 

West Valley High School’s Academic Decathlon team has won the county competition two years in a row and seven in the last eleven years. Academic Decathlon Coach, Timm Hannem, jokes that it is a winter sport. Students have been preparing since the summer and have dedicated holidays, one-to-two weekends a month, and every weekday to study for the competition. With the amount of time these students spend together, they have developed their own “inside jokes” and seem to turn every subject and even phrase into an opportunity to prepare. From spelling a teammates nickname to the phrase, “time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana,” the team join together to deliver impromptu speeches to convince others of seeing things from their point-of-view. 

All of West Valley’s team members are seniors and feel like this is their lost shot. Students said that keeping themselves engaged in the material has been challenging and find themselves looking for new ways to make their study sessions more entertaining. Students play Mall Hockey, show Joe Biden memes, and joke to help deal with their stress. Due to West Valley’s winning record, students feel like they have a lot to live up to, but are not afraid of the challenge. They have managed to prioritize studying for the competition, homework, jobs, and athletics. Among the eight competing, they are involved in band, track, water-polo, theater, cheer, swim, volleyball, and even a job! They look forward to the competition and the friendly rivalry that has been created between their fellow Hemet schools. 

Hemet High School’s Academic Decathlon team has a proud and impressive history of competing in the Riverside County competition. Academic Decathlon Coach Rebecca Shawver, came back as the coach and is working hard to ensure a Hemet High win. Shawver taught Academic Decathlon for many years, and was Timm Hannem’s coach when he was in Academic Decathlon. Hannem said he knows Hemet High will put up a great fight due to her coaching, and added that she has a perfect record as coach. 

Hemet High’s team is made up of new members, but they are not unfamiliar with the pressure of competition. Like West Valley’s team, Hemet’s team is made up of many athletes and are familiar with prioritizing their busy schedules. Hemet High has faced some challenges with members leaving them, but they think this actually brought them closer as a team. There is a true sense of comradery amongst these students. They have created PowerPoint presentations and teaching techniques that help other team members better understand the material. 

With the amount of time students have been dedicating to studying, Coach Shawver thought it would be nice to have a cookie baking party. The students brought cookie dough from their favorite recipe and baked holiday cookie boxes for staff members who have helped them study and prepare for the competition. Shawver said it was a great team-building activity. 

Tahquitz High School, the newest of the three schools, is looking to make a name for themselves. With the pressure that Hemet and West Valley have created, they are rising to the occasion and preparing to make themselves a real competitor in the county competition. Thanks to former Coach Tonya Brady, the excitement of Academic Decathlon has spread throughout the Tahquitz campus. So much so that Tahquitz will have two Academic Decathlon teams competing this year. 

Jonathan Monteith, the new Academic Decathlon Coach, said he is amazed by the amount of dedication and time these students have given for this two-day competition. He said three of the students have returned and have been instrumental in continuing to develop the Academic Decathlon teams. These students have taken the time to explain what their other teammates should expect, have helped them with their speeches, preparing them for interviews, and motivating them to learn the tremendous amount of material. 

With all of the early morning study sessions, tensions can run high, especially when Monteith forgets to bring in donuts! Monteith said he continues to be amazed by the amount of hard work these students are putting in on top of the various extra-curricular activities team members are involved in. In fact, one of the decathletes, Kaylee Westmoreland, just beat the Southern Section CIF record in Girls Soccer for most goals saved. 

“I am a product of this community and I want to give back to the town that made me who I am,” said Monteith. 

We wish these teams the best of luck in the county competition. Please come and show your support for the Hemet Schools this Saturday, February 4th, at Beaumont High School beginning at 1:00 p.m. We know these three teams will make us proud!

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