About 420 teenagers, representing 25 high schools from all over Fresno County, converged on the Fresno State campus Saturday, Jan. 28, for the essay and speech competitions of this year’s Fresno County Academic Decathlon competition.

The daylong events were the culmination of several months of special courses learning about this year’s topic – World War II.

Dr. Dennis Nef, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, welcomed the students as they started their day in the Residence Dining Hall. He painted a contrast of how the competing students are very close to the same age as members of The Greatest Generation, those who fought in WWII, were when the U.S. became engaged in the war in 1941.

“Even in war, life goes on,” Nef said. “You have friends, you have family. You associate with those friends, you do things with them. … This was the generation that we called The Greatest Generation because they did things. I encourage you, as you think about what you’ve learned about World War II, this is not just academic knowledge. This is to help you do things. You have no more control on the next five years of your life than my parents did in December of 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. But you can act. Don’t sit around complaining – do something. Welcome to Fresno State. Good luck today!”

After the welcoming remarks, students went to various classrooms on the Fresno State campus to complete essays on the subjects they’ve been studying since last fall. In the afternoon, after lunch back in the dining hall, they gave speeches to judges about what they’ve learned.

Dr. Honora Chapman, associate dean for the College of Arts and Humanities, also greeted the students that morning, as well as the following week on the day of the culminating event. On Saturday, Feb. 4, the high school students head to the Central East High School campus for the Super Quiz, the only part of the competition held before an audience.

University High School, a charter school located on the Fresno State campus, won the Fresno County competition and will now go on to the state decathlon competition in Sacramento March 22-25. The winner at the state level will compete at the National Decathlon in Madison, Wisc., in April. University High has won the National Decathlon small schools championship for the past 10 years, The Fresno Bee reported.

Since 1994 the College of Arts and Humanities has served as co-host for the Fresno County Academic Decathlon, which like the decathlon of the ancient Greeks, is a contest of academic strength focusing on 10 areas:

  • Economics
  • Language and literature
  • Social science
  • Fine arts
  • Mathematics
  • Speech
  • Music
  • Science
  • Interview
“Through a long-standing partnership with Fresno County Office of Education and community sponsors, high school students across the Valley have the opportunity to earn college credits and experience the excitement of interactive university-level lectures,” said Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. “The annual Academic Decathlon, hosted at Fresno State, provides our students the opportunity to celebrate the joy of exploring knowledge, from centuries-old questions of good and justice to contemporary and cutting-edge dilemma.”

In addition to hosting the competition event at Fresno State, the College of Arts and Humanities offers a series of academic workshops on campus at Fresno State to students participating in the competition through a Humanities 1T course, enabling them to earn college credit.

Associate Dean Honora Chapman organized all of the speakers for the various workshops providing background on World War II. The first workshop for this year’s Academic Decathlon, back in October, included nuclear and atomic physics on the world stage during World War II.

Other workshops followed in the months between then and the competition. Economics Professor Janice Peterson covered economics. Cindy Urrutia, director of the Center for Creativity and the Arts, discussed art of the era. Media, Communications and Journalism Professor Gary Rice covered World War II history.

Jim Yovino, Fresno County Superintendent of Schools, said this year’s topic holds a special significance for him:

“My father was a veteran and served as a Marine in WWII. His was part of the Greatest Generation because the men and women of our armed forces fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was the right thing to do. I hope the students participating in Academic Decathlon have also developed a respect for the freedoms granted to us because of the sacrifices of those who defended our nation and world during this time period.”

Yovino thanked everyone who makes Academic Decathlon possible – “teachers, coaches, business sponsors and countless volunteers. We are especially grateful for our partners, Fresno State and Central Unified School District, for hosting this year’s competition.”