It didn’t involve a discus or javelin, but the work was grueling nonetheless as students from St. James the Less prepared for the annual California Catholic Schools Academic Decathlon.
The event was founded in September 1989 by Dr. Mark Ryan who was then a junior high teacher at St. Aloysius School in south-central Los Angeles. Ryan had a vision for an academic event to parallel the athletic competitions so prevalent in schools. What began as a tiny competition involving a handful of schools from the greater Los Angeles area has grown into a statewide event involving Catholic junior high students.
St. James was one of 98 schools that participated in the daylong March 14 competition held at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. The decathlon is for students in grades six through eight and offers 10 areas of competition. Two are collaborative team efforts — a logic quiz with 20 thinking problems and a super quiz with 50 multiple choice questions on five broad academic themes. The remaining eight events test individual knowledge of the Roman Catholic doctrine, English, literature, science, mathematics, current events, social studies and fine arts (art and music). Awards are given for individual and team performance and the winning school’s team from each geographic diocese competes in a state championship the first Saturday of May each year.
The 21-member St. James team, 10 full members and 11 alternates, has been studying since the beginning of the school year, putting in extra hours since November. The students met three days a week at 7 a.m. — an hour before school — to study. Seventh grade teacher Nola Ching acted at the team’s head coach. Three additional teachers — Mariane Boerem, Phyllis Freeman and Gino Camatti — also donated their spare time to coach the students. All were in attendance at the decathlon with the many St. James parents who had come to cheer on the team.
At the end of the afternoon, the efforts of the last several months paid off for the students as the medals were presented.
Individual awards were presented to four St. James students: Brandon Kim placed seventh in fine arts, Sydney Acosta placed eighth in literature, Josh Liberto placed tenth in religion and team captain Anna Hovanesyan placed tenth in English.
In the logic category, St. James took third place out of the 98 participating schools.
The last awards were for the top ten all-around schools.
To the delight of the St. James crowd, the school captured ninth place in the all-around category.
The teachers were pleased with not only with how hard each team member worked, but the spirit they exhibited. “Working with this group of students was a wonderful experience. They were so supportive of each other and dedicated to the success of the team. They were more like a family; they ate together, studied together, laughed together, and even cried together,” said head coach Ching. “The other coaches and I are bursting with pride.”