Joy and Fellowship Amid “Battle of the Brains,” The Tidings, March 2012

St. Lawrence Martyr and Holy Family receive top honors at Academic Decathlon 

By Brenda Rees

On a recent Saturday, 1,000 kids spent their day off from school to take test and test after test. And they were happy – no, ecstatic – about doing it.

Representing 100 schools in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, these middle school students participated in the Academic Junior High Decathlon, an annual cerebral competition at the Los Angeles Sports Arena where school teams go brain-to-brain with their fellow Southern California Decathletes.

Overall top honors went to St. Lawrence Martyr (Redondo Beach) and Holy Family School (South Pasadena); these two Decathlon teams will represent the Los Angeles Archdiocese at the statewide competition to be held May 5 in Orange County. In a break from tradition, this year, the top two schools will represent the archdiocese given the enormity of the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

“The whole experience of Decathlon is a testament to Catholic education,” says Kathy Wise, head coach for St. Lawrence Martyr. “It’s an awesome experience for any school and it was fun for us to watch the neighboring tables win. Our philosophy has been to work hard, treat each other with respect and kindness and know that God and faith are in the center of all that we do.”

Wise’s two daughters graduated from the school years ago (last one is 2006), but the program still draws her back to volunteering her coaching duties – she’s been involved in Decathlon since 2004. “I really love the program and being around kids who have a joy for learning is fantastic,” she says.

Indeed with a 6:45 a.m. call, the day started early for Decathletes, but even more so for the team from Notre Dame School in Santa Barbara who set their clocks for 4 a.m. to make the trek into downtown Los Angeles. “It’s a great opportunity to show your skills and be with your friends,” says team captain Rachel Fields who has participated in now three Decathlons. “I try to tell my other teammates to do their best and not stress so much. We’re all in this together.”

All through the day-long challenge, the mood on the sports floor fluctuated between joyous jitters and infectious excitement as an estimated 3,000 spectators vigorously clapped, frantically waved signs and enthusiastically cheered.

“It’s really surreal experience,” says Gabriel Alpuerto from St. Dominic School in Eagle Rock; “It’s cool to be able to say you did it because we all like the challenge,” adds Matthew Perez from St. Philomena in Carson; “It’s a wonderful way to have fun with your friends and learn at that same time,” sums up Naomi Dupres of St. Anthony of Padua in Gardena.

After the official testing finished and with loud dance music playing, the students blew off steam with an impromptu conga line weaving through the tables; up in the bleachers, spectators started a “wave” which further fueled the party-like atmosphere on the sports floor.

Founded in 1989 by Dr. Mark Ryan who taught at St. Aloysius School in South Central L.A., the decathlon began as a small competition involving a handful of schools from the greater Los Angeles area. It has since grown to become a statewide event involving Catholic junior high students from across the United States.

The Decathlon consists of three segments – the Logic Quiz and the Super Quiz (which all 10 teammates participate) as well as individual events that include: Roman Catholic doctrine, English, Literature, Science, Mathematics, Current Events, Social Studies, and Fine Arts (Art and Music).

While final scores were being tallied, the Eucharist was celebrated on the sports floor by Msgr. Patrick Loftus who told the Decathletes that while pride is the greatest of all sins, he was giving them all a special dispensation. “Just for today, you are allowed to feel pride for what you have done today,” he said, later encouraging them to “take what you know and put it to good use…that’s a life long endeavor.”

Finally, during the awards ceremony,  medals were distributed with eager students racing up to the platform to receive the well-deserved prize. They returned to their seats with hugs and smiles, everyone elevated by the day’s activities.

“I think for any school that is considering forming an Academic Decathlon team, they should come [witness part of the competition], participate in the beautiful Mass and see the joy in the student’s eyes at the awards ceremony,” says Lisa Barker, science and math teacher as well as Decathlon coach at Holy Family, whose team will be going to state. “Students will see how the kids work and support each other. It’s rewarding on so many levels.”


Posted in The Tidings.