Sacramento County agrees to host Placer academic decathletes

With proctor Lora Nishimura looking on, Nathan McCurley puzzles at the answer to a question during the Sacramento County Academic Decathlon Super Quiz at Valley High School on Feb. 2, 2008.
With proctor Lora Nishimura looking on, Nathan McCurley puzzles at the answer to a question during the Sacramento County Academic Decathlon Super Quiz at Valley High School on Feb. 2, 2008. Sacramento Bee file

Sacramento County’s Office of Education has offered to host Placer County high school students at its academic decathlon competition on Feb. 7 after the competition in their county was canceled.

“It’s what we do to help each other out,” said Sacramento County schools chief David Gordon. “That’s what we need to do for our colleagues, so they aren’t shut out of the competition.”

The Placer County Office of Education told coaches earlier this month that the annual competition would not happen this year because of a lack of interest. Only Roseville High School and Western Sierra Collegiate Academy had signed up by the Dec. 5 deadline. Placer County schools chief Gayle Garbolino-Mojica said the county office requires four teams to hold a competition.

Sacramento County education officials decided Friday to add the Placer County teams, including one from Rocklin High that didn’t make the Dec. 5 deadline. The highest scoring team from each county will go on to the state contest, as will some high-scoring teams that do not win.

The three teams from Placer County will compete with the 28 Sacramento County teams, although they will be scored separately. Their scores will be tallied and sent to the Placer County Office of Education, which will announce the individual winners and team winner at a banquet on Feb. 10, said Kindra Amalong, PCOE spokeswoman.

Gordon said adding the teams will mean “some extra work” for his staff, but “it’s a wonderful experience for the kids and they should have the opportunity to do it.”

An academic decathlon team usually consists of nine members, although some schools field teams with more than 20 members, including alternates. The teams consist of equal numbers of students with high, middle and low grade-point averages. Students compete as a team and individually, taking tests, writing an essay, giving speeches and being interviewed. The competition ends with a team event called the Super Quiz.

Last week, Placer County Academic Decathlon coaches and students, as well as state coordinator Ken Scarberry, expressed dismay at the cancellation and told The Bee they were intent on finding some way to allow the students to compete, either with another county or by hosting the event in Placer County themselves.

“Last week was stressful for my team since they did not know if they would compete or not,” said Michael Knight, coach of the Rocklin team. “Luckily, I was able to let them all know that they will be able to compete, which put their minds at ease as they begin winter break and continue with their preparations.”

Roseville High team captain Robbie Short said it is “disappointing” that the competition won’t take place in Placer County, but he is glad the uncertainty is over.

“We know we are competing now,” he said. “We know where.”

The Sacramento County competition will be a good opportunity for Placer County students, said Roseville coach Bobby Ritter.

“I’m really excited about it,” he said. “They get a chance to be part of a bigger competition and have a better chance to see how it is to compete at state.”

The Roseville High team has won the Placer County title for the last two years. Ritter said members of his team have been motivated by the threat of cancellation, calling it “a shot of adrenaline.” He said they don’t want to put up a mediocre score after fighting so hard to compete.

Team members also want to perform well so they can feel good about one of their teams moving on to state.

“It will be embarrassing if we show up and we were to finish 20th overall, and we get to go to state because we are from Placer County and there are 18 other teams that don’t,” Ritter said. “That doesn’t feel good.”

Call The Bee’s Diana Lambert, (916) 321-1090. Follow her on Twitter @dianalambert.