Hemet’s whiz kids advance to state

CRAIG SHULTZ
 STAFF WRITER
   Hemet and West Valley high schools are cross-town rivals and fierce competitors.

   That is seen when their athletic teams compete and is even more evident when their top minds square off in the Academic Decathlon.

   The two Hemet schools have 
combined to win the past 17 Riverside County championships. This year, Hemet earned the 2014 title Feb. 1, with West Valley finishing second.

   West Valley won 
the competition the previous five years and Hemet was champion the 11 years before that.

   It was hard to tell which accomplishment pleased the Hemet team more — winning the county title or beating West Valley.

   “It feels so good to dedicate so much time to this and know we defeated West Valley,” team member Joe Barraza said.

   Both teams have qualified for the California Academic Decathlon from March 20-23 in Sacramento. Hemet is ranked 11th in the state and West Valley is 14th.

   In the decathlon, high school students compete by writing essays, delivering prepared and impromptu speeches, participating in an interview with judges and taking written tests. This year’s theme is World War I.

   Each team is composed of up to nine students from three gradepoint categories. Students accumulate individual and team points, concluding with the game showlike Super Quiz.

   The decathlon becomes all-encompassing for competitors. The Hemet team, all seniors, was recruited last spring and has been working together since the school year began in August.

   “You don’t do anything but study and sleep and eat,” Jorel Gordon said.

   They squeeze in hours of studying between their regular school work — most take at least three advanced classes — and extracurricular activities.

   “I didn’t understand how much 
work it would be,” Mason Meeks said. “No way I’m studying this much ever again.”

   But team members said the effort was worth it.

   The Hemet nine said they didn’t know each other very well before, but the hours studying together have made them close.

   “The best part was probably team camaraderie,” Harrison Davis said. “I gained some great friendships.”

   Students said the experience will help them in college.

   “We can all take away the study skills we acquired,” Amber McKeough said. “The fact we all got medals is a good payoff to show we are capable of working this hard.”

   “After this, college studying doesn’t seem as intimidating anymore,” Shawna McCann added.

   While team members 
knew they didn’t have to win to qualify for state, they said second place was not an option.

   “We put in the work to get first,” McKeough said. “To not get first would be a letdown.”

   Coach Art Plinski said standout performances by Nilesh Gupta, the overall high scorer, and Meeks helped, but that the victory was a team effort.

   “They were really focused,” he said. “Everybody knew their role and played their role.”

   West Valley coach Timm Hannem said he was pleased with the effort of his team, which had seven members instead of the usual nine but still recorded the school’s highest score ever.

   “I can’t say I was disappointed with anything this year,” he said. “I just asked the kids to do their best. They did awesome, that’s all I can expect.”

   Contact Craig Shultz at 951-368-9086 or cshultz@pe.com 
FRANK BELLINO/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

   Hemet High’s Carl Torres cheers for teammates during the Riverside County Academic Decathlon Super Quiz competition at Heritage High.

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