By Charlie Xu

The decathlon, a two-day Olympic event with its roots in Ancient Greece, is a grueling athletic competition that incorporates ten various track and field events. On the next two Saturdays, (January 26 and February 2), high school students from all over Orange County will participate in a decathlon that tests not athletic speed and strength, but instead tests academic acuity and intellect: Academic Decathlon.

The origin of Academic Decathlon can be traced back to World War II. During his seventeen months in a German prisoner of war camp, Dr. Robert Peterson, a young-B-17 pilot, had much time to reflect on several topics, especially education. It is during this reflection that Dr. Peterson began to develop the concept of a “decathlon of studies,” which would allow students to maximize their learning potential. In 1968, Dr. Peterson realized his dream; he successfully held the very first Academic Decathlon in Orange County. Following that first trial run, Dr. Peterson’s advocacy and determination enabled Academic Decathlon to grow and expand, leading to the formation of both the California Academic Decathlon and the National Academic Decathlon in 1981. Today, Academic Decathlon is recognized as one of the nation’s most prestigious academic competitions. In just California alone, approximately 13,000 students participate in Academic Decathlon each year!

Academic Decathlon aims to inspire students to accomplish “intellectual and academic achievement through team competition,” the basic concept and ideal laid out by Dr. Peterson. The competition consists of ten events: art, music, math, science, economics, language and literature, social studies, essay, speech, and interview. The content of these events are determined by a theme selected annually. For example, this year’s theme is Russia. Each high school team is comprised of nine participants with three in each division: three “Honors” students (3.75—4.00 GPA), three “Scholastic” students (3.00—3.74 GPA), and three “Varsity” students (0.00—2.99). However, each participant only competes in his or her division (An Honors student will only compete with other Honors students.). Only the top two individuals for each event are counted in the team score. Medals are awarded for individual events as well as overall team scores. In order to compete on the national level, teams must first pass through regional and state competitions.

Although only juniors and seniors can compete in Academic Decathlon, Orange County uniquely offers an easier version of Academic Decathlon for freshmen and sophomores. This competition mimics the real Academic Decathlon, allowing underclassmen to experience the competition. In addition, the competition does not have the events of economics and interview, and the curriculum material for each event is considerably shortened.

Academic Decathlon offers a great way for students to learn extensively about a certain topic and participate in both a fun and highly competitive tournament. With its broad selection of events, it challenges students, regardless of their academic grades, to become well-rounded learners and develop a passion for learning. Dr. Peterson’s dream of more than sixty years ago continues to thrive today and will continue to motivate students to exercise their brains for many more years to come.

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