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As Students, These Coaches Were Molded by Their Academic Decathlon Experiences

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The 2024 Fresno County Academic Decathlon culminates in the Feb. 3 Super Quiz and awards ceremony at Sunnyside High. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)
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When Fresno County’s Academic Decathlon superstars take their seats on the floor of the Sunnyside High gym for the final Super Quiz event, a handful of grown-ups on the sidelines will know exactly what the high schoolers are going through.

Fresno County Academic Decathlon 2024

Super Quiz

3 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 3

Sunnyside High School main gymnasium, 1019 S. Peach Ave.

Adam von Boltenstern, who is in his second year of coaching Sunnyside High School’s Academic Decathlon team, and Angelique Duvet-Tovar, Sanger High’s coach for 16 years, competed on their high schools’ Academic Decathlon teams — von Boltenstern at Duncan Polytechnical High and Duvet-Tovar at Sierra High.

It’s not uncommon for Academic Decathletes to wind up as coaches, Duvet-Tovar said.

“This program and what it offers and the confidence building that it provides for students to really develop themselves intellectually, but also personally, that’s why we come back,” she said. “It’s such an awesome program that we come back and we love it, even though sometimes we’re considered masochists a little bit —it’s such a fun experience.”

Duvet-Tovar, who teaches French at Sanger, is somewhat regretful that she only got to compete one year on Sierra’s team as a freshman. The school dropped its Academic Decathlon team the following year due to declining enrollments.

Although she competed only one year, Duvet-Tovar grew up accompanying her mother, the team’s coach, to competitions and saw firsthand the comradery that decathletes develop.

That was a key incentive for von Boltenstern, who teaches geometry and calculus at Sunnyside, to join Duncan’s team as a junior.

“It was more time to spend with my friends, after school on weekends. So for me, it was more about the community than the academic stuff,” he said.

Range of GPAs Required

Academic Decathlon is designed to give students with varying achievement levels the opportunity to compete. Each team must include three players at the Honor, Scholastic, and Varsity levels, based on their grade-point average.

Von Boltenstern said that when he was recruited for Duncan’s Academic Decathlon team, “my GPA was trash.” He qualified for what he jokingly refers to as the “bonehead team.” He surprised himself, and his team, by winning a science medal that first year, and when his GPA improved over his junior year, he qualified as a senior for the mid-level, or “scholastic” team.

One of Sunnyside’s team members had to be moved to a higher-level squad for the same reason — an improved GPA, which von Boltenstern said can come when decathletes learn better study habits from their teammates.

The students take either written tests in subjects such as economics, music, social science, mathematics and science, write an essay, and also have an oral presentation. This year’s Academic Decathlon theme is “Technology & Humanity.”

Super Quiz is Super Exciting

The only Academic Decathlon event that’s open to the public is the Super Quiz, where three members of each school’s team compete against other three-member teams while friends and family cheer them on from the stands in a pep rally-type event. The Super Quiz is followed by an awards ceremony, also open to the public, where top-scoring students in the Super Quiz as well as individual topics will receive medals and, in some cases, scholarships.

Adam von Boltenstern

“The southeast side of town is the lowest income, Sunnyside is the largest high school in Fresno, let’s host it — let’s make Sunnyside a symbol.” — Sunnyside High academic decathlon coach Adam von Boltenstern

Von Boltenstern said he and other Sunnyside officials were excited to have the Super Quiz move to Sunnyside after in-person competitions resumed post-pandemic.

“The southeast side of town is the lowest income, Sunnyside is the largest high school in Fresno, let’s host it — let’s make Sunnyside a symbol,” he said.

The competitions have changed considerably since his days as a high schooler, he said. University High, which was only starting up during his high school years, is now the perennial Fresno County champion. The charter school also has logged a series of national small school championships.

Meanwhile, a school like Edison High, which used to be a county powerhouse, is struggling to field a team, he said.

Sunnyside has enough students to have A and B teams. The B Team is mostly freshmen and sophomores, and having two teams allows them to compete, just as younger athletes might compete on a junior varsity team, von Boltenstern said.

 

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email

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