Valley schools push each other to new heights

Riverside County Academic Decathlon puts students to the test

■ Hemet Unified School District / Contributed

Elsinore High School has won the past two Riverside County Academic Decathlon championships, but that isn’t slowing them down from going for a third. Elsinore, along with Hemet, San Jacinto, and West Valley High Schools are meeting every month to compete against each other in preparation for the Riverside County Championships that begin in January.
“I’ve never scrimmaged this early,” said Elsinore coach Ryan Klopp, who, in his fourteenth year of coaching, is leading an Elsinore team that are the reigning champions for two consecutive years. “But it’s good to get feedback on team performance.”
“Everyone here wants to win the county title, it’s the only way to guarantee an invite to State, but this year we have a different vision,” returning West Valley co-coach Billy Valenzuela added, “our goal is to push each other so that all our teams qualify.”
Teams with high scores can qualify for the state competition by getting an “at-large” invitation. The at-large, or “wild-card” invitations aren’t known until the county champions are determined in February, but the coaches believe that meeting and competing regularly can help boost their teams performance, as well as enjoyment of the competition.

Our goal is push each other so that all our teams qualify.” – West Valley co-coach Billy Valenzuela

Regular scrimmages became an idea the coaches mutually agreed on last year as a strategy to improve their teams, but also to add more fun and interaction between teams. Today’s scrimmage featured practice exams food and fun; intramural game of Ultimate Frisbee, a welcome retreat from the grueling and exhausting competitive nature of the students.
“Academic Decathlon is always an undertaking: hours of studying, towering boxes of pizza and many, many tissues. Still, I wouldn’t trade one tear-stained, pizza crust moment of it,” said third year San Jacinto Coach Bethany Gibson.
San Jacinto’s expectations rose over the past four years as they worked with former Hemet High school teacher Keith Rossi and finished in the top five for the first time in school history. “It was like fireworks,” recalls Gibson. The pressure to win forces the coaches to take a larger perspective on the competition.
“We have to balance the hard work with a little fun now and then, especially considering some of the rigorous schedules these kids have. Win or lose, I want the students to look back at Academic Decathlon as one of the best things they did in high school,” said Rex McDonald, second year coach at Hemet High.
Rawan Moser, in her first year coaching at West Valley added about the topic, “You have to care for the whole student, even taking careful choices about what snacks they eat during study times.”
The profile of Academic Decathlon has grown in Hemet after a string of coaches helped push Hemet High to win the county title ten years in a row, and thirteen times in the past two decades. The only other school to win in those two decades were West Valley, also in Hemet, and Elsinore, the reigning champion.

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