Academic Decathlon competition drives siblings

Brothers Jacob and Joseph Matsushita say they were motivated to join University High School's Academic Decathlon team, the national small-schools winner for the past four years, for the opportunity to learn about a variety of topics.

But the brothers had another motive -- sibling rivalry. Joseph, a 16-year-old junior, said watching their older brother David win awards in the competition inspired him to join. David encouraged him, but -- in true fraternal taunting -- said he doubted that Joseph could outscore him.

"I wanted to prove to him that I could beat him," said Joseph, who is competing in his first decathlon.

University High will defend its 2010 Fresno County championship in Saturday's Academic Decathlon.

Students from 30 schools will compete at Clovis East High School, said event coordinator Jennifer Quinn. Teams composed of nine students will take seven multiple-choice tests and also participate in the fast-paced Super Quiz, which is open to the public. The theme of the Academic Decathlon this year: The Great Depression.

Quinn said she has only seen a few siblings compete together during the 13 years she has coordinated the competition.

It's a first for coach Sean Canfield. "I've never had two siblings on the team simultaneously," said Canfield, who has coached Academic Decathlon teams for 24 year -- 15 at Clovis West High School and nine at University High.

He said the University High team meets for about two hours every day after school, on weekends and on holidays to study and take practice tests. The group met for about eight hours a few times during the winter break.

"If it's a holiday, we're here, because that's an extra day of studying," Canfield said. "There is a tremendous amount of material to read. Each of them has about a 4-inch binder full of reading material."

University High won the Fresno County competition last year, breaking Edison High School's 13-year winning streak.

Joseph and Jacob are confident that their team will hold on to the county title this weekend.

"I think Edison will do OK, but I still think we are going to beat them," said Jacob, a 17-year-old junior who is competing in his first decathlon.

"I think we definitely have a chance at winning this year," Joseph said. "I mean, we did it last year."

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