Academic Decathlon: University High senior a champ in two worlds

Martinez III excels in wrestling and academics.

The Fresno BeeFebruary 1, 2013 

The parents of Richard Martinez III wanted their son to grow up well-rounded and disciplined in academics and athletics to ensure he would have options when he finished high school.

And it paid off.

Richard, 16, and a senior at University High, is a national champion in Academic Decathlon and Greco-Roman wrestling. He is the only known high school student in the country to pull off that kind of wrestling/Academic Decathlon double.

Richard has the grades (just above a 3.8 grade-point average) and test scores to earn a spot at an Ivy League school. He is physical enough to fight for a place on the U.S. national wrestling team. And he has the motivation to follow a family tradition and serve his country as an Army Ranger.

"It's all about what you model for your kids and what you teach them," says Richard Martinez Jr.

"We never set it up to try to win. (Richard) wins because he's good at what he does. The sole purpose isn't to pick up a trophy. It's a process about being disciplined to make you a successful person with a bright mind."

The younger Martinez says he thrives on a schedule filled with college courses, weight training and countless hours of added study time in preparation for the annual Academic Decathlon. He competes for University High in today's Fresno County Super Quiz at Central High.

"I can't have one without the other," he says. "I mean, I wouldn't be the same person, so I don't regret a thing."

But all this didn't come overnight; it took years of training that he says is "designed to have as many hardships as possible so when I get to the military later on in life everything is going to be easier."

His introduction to wrestling is an example. Richard trained in judo and jiu-jitsu since age 6, but at 8 he lost in the championship of an out-of-town jiu-jitsu tournament to an opponent who had an advantage on him -- wrestling experience. So Richard asked his dad whether he could wrestle and the practices soon followed.

Because University High does not have an athletics program, Richard practices at nearby high schools including Bullard and Clovis North. He is eligible to compete in high school wrestling, but that's freestyle; he favors the Greco-Roman style, usually contested in summer tournaments. Richard won the 135-pound division at the 2011 USA Wrestling Cadet Nationals.

Martinez Jr. and his wife, Judee, were pushing their son intellectually, too. He enrolled at University High as a 13-year-old freshman.

"We made a decision that we didn't want (Richard) to be 18 years old and be really bright, but really bored," Martinez Jr. says.

Academic Decathlon fit nicely into that strategy. Richard was challenged immediately as the only freshman on the Academic Decathlon team in 2010. Coach Sean Canfield handed him a calculus quiz on the first day of practice.

"It was a horror story," Richard says. "It was just my second week in school."

But that didn't scare off the young and ambitious Richard, who was quickly taken under the wing of his upper-class teammates, Canfield says: "They never looked down upon him or anything like that, and they recognized that he was still very important to the team."

In Academic Decathlon, teams consist of nine students pulled evenly from three categories: Honors (A-average students), Scholastic (B-average) and Varsity (C-average).

Richard was an Honors alternate his first two years, then made the University High team last year as a Scholastic competitor. For the second time in three years, University knocked off Edison High for the county championship, en route to its sixth straight national small schools championship.

Academic Decathlon is a battle to see which school has the best brains in 10 disciplines. There are tests in social science, science, economics, language and literature, art, math and music, plus competitions in interview, speech and essay. The Super Quiz, which focuses on science or social science topics, caps the competition and is open to the public. This year's national Super Quiz theme is Russia.

Canfield says Academic Decathlon differs from sports in that the competitors study for most of the school year for a single competition, whereas sports team members practice and have multiple competitions throughout the season.

That singular focus often results in many hours of studying. At University High, for instance, decathletes have been studying six days a week, even using 3-day weekends, holidays and vacation time over the winter break.

"It's a huge commitment and it takes a lot of sacrifice," Canfield says.

Richard Martinez III says his team's motivation is winning back-to-back county championships. University ended Edison's 13-year reign at the top in 2010, but Edison won the title in 2011 before University got back on top last year.

"I'd like to call it the start of the dynasty if we win this," Richard says. "We want our name on that trophy more than once at a time."

Teams qualify out of county events for the state meet in March; top teams there move on to national competition in April.

The schedule doesn't slow down for Richard -- graduation is May 18, a week after he turns 17. He says his options include enlisting in the Army, trying out for the U.S. national wrestling team or attending an Ivy League university such as Brown or Princeton.

"I feel that every young man should get out, have some adventure and experience the world," Richard says. "And I consider it a moral prerequisite to serve your country, so that's something I want to do."


The annual county competitions finish today with Super Quizzes (the only portion of the event that is open to the public):

Fresno County: Central East High School gym, Super Quiz at 3:30 p.m.

Kings County: Corcoran High School, Super Quiz at 2 p.m.

Madera County: Madera South High School, Super Quiz at 2:45 p.m.

Tulare County: Mission Oak High School, Tulare, Super Quiz at 1 p.m.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6165 or

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