Rancho Cucamonga High School came in fourth place in this year’s California Academic Decathlon in March in Sacramento. It was the highest ever finish for a San Bernardino County team.
It was a year of firsts for the team, which won the county title for the first time in February.
“For me, it was over the top,” said English teacher John Nath, who coaches the team. “We’d been going at it a long time. … ‘My god, what more do we need to do?’”
Cameron Steger, 17, a senior at Rancho Cucamonga High, has been on the team for four years. His sophomore and junior year, the team came in second place, behind Chaffey High, which won seven county championships in a row before this year.
“Last year, we thought we had it,” Cameron said. “And it was so close, it really stung so much more than if they’d creamed us.”
Students compete in 10 academic events, including written tests in the areas of math, economics, music, art and language/literature; an essay; public speaking; and a Super Quiz, a college bowl-style event consisting of multiple choice questions. This year’s theme was the 1960s, a period of history that gets only cursory attention in history class otherwise, according to Cameron.
And it’s not just A students who participate. Each team must have a mix of A, B and C students, which is something of a challenge for Nath, as studying and preparing for the competitions tends to bring up the grades of his B and C students. (Cameron, for the record, is in the A category and will be attending Yale in the fall, studying political science.)
But success means hundreds of hours of study and preparation time outside of class, according to Nash, meaning a lot less time for Fortnite and YouTube.
“When I’m explaining academic decathlon to people, they’re just like, ‘oh, you’re just going home and doing extra studying,’” said Cameron’s brother, Aaron, 15. “There’s something different about AcaDec. You’re not just studying to take a test and be done with it. You’re studying to compete and build up your scores and build up everything that you can. You’re studying speech, you’re practicing interviews, you’re practicing being a personable person in general. It just builds you up as a person and trains you to be a person who can function in life. I think it’s important in that sense.”