Oxnard team prepares for state Academic Decathlon

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© Joseph A. Garcia/VC Star
Natalia Russell (left) and other members of Oxnard High School's Academic Decathlon team practice their speech presentations in a circle exercise during preparation for the upcoming state competition in Sacramento. It will be the fourth time Oxnard High has been to the state Academic Decathlon. © Joseph A. Garcia/VC Star
Nine seniors at Oxnard High School are busy preparing for the California Academic Decathlon this weekend in Sacramento.

The team will represent Ventura County at the state championship, which is being held Saturday through Monday.

“We’re going up there for a purpose and they’ve worked really hard,” said Chris Conte, who has coached the Oxnard High team since 1999. “But these are top-notch teams and to win is very tough.”

The 65 teams selected for the state final are divided into three divisions. Oxnard is in division three with 24 other teams.

Each division will have an overall winner and the top three students in each category for every event will receive gold, silver and bronze medals. The winners will be announced Monday at Memorial Auditorium at the Sacramento Convention Center. The top team overall will represent California at the U.S. Academic Decathlon finals in Charlotte, N.C., in April.

Oxnard earned its place by winning the county Academic Decathlon last month. It also won last year and went on to finish 28th out of 62 teams at the state competition. As a wild card team at the state event, it placed 12th in 2007 and 13th in 2008.

Sarah Watte, 18, was a member of last year’s team and will compete again this weekend. “I’m excited to go back there. It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “I think we have a good chance this year in the division we’re in.”

The teams will be tested in 10 categories, including art, music, economics, literature, science, speech and interview.

Team member Natalia Russell said being part of the team has given her the chance to learn new things.

“I love doing the speech and the interview and have that opportunity to sharpen my people skills,” she said. “Sometimes, though, you think there’s so much to learn and so much to take in that it can be quite overwhelming.”

Danielle Bonucchi, 17, who also was on the team last year, said she appreciates the friendships she’s made through Academic Decathlon, plus all the things it has taught her.

“The experience is priceless,” she said. “It’s really helped me with my speaking skills and it’s helped me to learn how to manage my time so I can do this and keep up with my studies and my extracurricular activities.”

The theme of this year’s competition is the Great Depression. It’s the same theme as at the county event, but Conte said the standards and questions at the state level will be harder.

“We are just going back over the packets they give us and we restudy them,” he said. “We’re redoing our speech and practicing it and going back over the interview skills.”

Watte said the lesson she learned last year was that the team needs to concentrate on the task at hand, even though they’re excited to be spending time away from home in the state capital.

“Last year we probably didn’t focus as much as we could, so we’re telling people we really need to hunker down and study,” she said.

Members of Oxnard’s team, in addition to Russell, Bonucchi and Watte, are Ian Cossman, Chase Bennett, Jeffrey Moore, Kyree Childress, Sasan Samadzadeh and Spencer Stevenson.

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