Clovis West High School students stormed Central High’s east campus gym Saturday wearing cardinal and gold-checkered capes. A student from the Central High entourage wore orange full-body spandex; another donned a Grizzlies mascot suit.
Students from other area high schools wore face paint and held up large, hand-drawn signs. They, along with the rest of the packed crowd, cheered when their teams did well and engaged in dueling chants.
No, this was not a basketball tournament.
“This is basically our Super Bowl,” said Mathias Tevendale, a junior at University High, which arguably boasted the largest and most vocal student section during the Super Quiz event of the 33rd annual Fresno County Academic Decathlon.
University High won its fourth county title in six years, besting last year’s champion Edison High in what has been a back-and-forth rivalry.
The Fresno County Academic Decathlon was one of four county decathlons that took place Saturday. Lemoore Middle College High School took the Kings County title, Visalia’s El Diamante High School took the top prize in Tulare County and Yosemite High came in on top in Madera County. The winners will represent their counties at the March 19-22 State Decathlon in Sacramento.
Saturday’s Fresno County decathlon had all the makings of a sporting event.
There were the top dogs in University and Edison highs, the only two schools that have won the county’s decathlon title since 1997, an up-and-comer in Bullard High, which finished third, and an underdog in ACEL Fresno, a charter school with an enrollment of 114 that competed at the decathlon for the first time.
The teams competed in 10 examinations as well as the Super Quiz, the culminating event that tested students on a range of topics — from climate change to literary analysis and 19th century German art songs to 18th century British architecture.
“The idea is that it isn’t just about who wins here,” said Bullard coach Steve Fisher, who got out of his seat during the Super Quiz and implored the Knights student section to cheer louder when the Bullard decathletes were on a hot streak.
“It’s about all these kids getting to participate in something that’s really important and celebrates intellect rather than sports. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.”
ACEL Fresno, in its inaugural appearance at the county decathlon, fell short of a top-10 finish. Coach Joshua Blancas, who helped lead the Central High team to its highest decathlon placing as an assistant coach last year, said his young team did not waver to first-year pressures.
“We’re looking to put our best foot forward,” Blancas said. “We know we belong here. It’s a great learning experience.”
The ACEL Fresno team, like the rest of the decathlon teams, laid the groundwork for Saturday many months beforehand. Amy Stone, mother of ACEL Fresno decathlete Caleb Stone, would drop her son off at Fresno State’s Henry Madden Library, where Caleb, a sophomore, and his teammates spent the bulk of their Saturdays studying encyclopedias together.
“I don’t know if he would’ve done that for anything else,” Amy Stone said of her son, adding, “He’ll do it again next year.”