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Ventura County Focus | COUNTYWIDE

Academic Decathlon Puts Students to the Test

January 11, 1998|LISA FERNANDEZ

The only thing that gave away his nervousness was the slight red blush creeping past his necktie and coloring his cheeks.

Other than that, Simi Valley High School senior David Wagner was perfectly composed Saturday as he was being interviewed by a panel of Academic Decathlon judges at Oxnard High School during the first day of the annual event.

The second part will be held Feb. 7, when 160 decathletes from 13 schools countywide return to answer questions in the seven remaining categories of the national test of intellectual skills.

David rested his hands calmly on his knees as he discussed his favorite science fiction books and his role as a section leader for the school's marching band, where he plays alto saxophone. His voice was steady as he told the judges about his position as treasurer for the school's chapter of Students Against Drunk Driving.

When Academic Decathlon judge Richard Regnier, a Ventura County trial lawyer for 35 years, asked him what he thought about Superior Court Judge Robert Bradley's recent drunk driving arrests, David answered that the punishments for driving under the influence should be harsher.

Elaborating, he told the panel that driver's licenses should be taken away after a DUI arrest, as the crime may affect more people than just the driver.

After giving his final impromptu speech of the day on "How to Eliminate Stress From your Life," David left the room and picked apart his performance in the hallway with his friends.

"I was pretty nervous," the 16-year-old said. "I wasn't sure how the words were going to flow."

But David handled himself just fine, one judge said.

"I'm really impressed with his composure and maturity level," said Patrick Murphy, a teacher at Mupu School near Ojai.

David's coach, history teacher Ken Hibbitts, was pacing as his students were being judged for their eloquence and knowledge. He admitted that he was feeling rather nervous, as his team has been the county Academic Decathlon winner for the last two years.

"Yeah, I feel pressure to win again," he said.

The secret of his success is his players.

"Having brilliant students is all of it," Hibbitts said. "Of course, hard work is important too."

Hibbitts said he and his students put up with the butterflies in their stomachs during the academic competition because of the recognition it brings for intellect in the public schools.

"Everyone hears about how much the public schools are failing," he said. "We need to show there is excellence in the schools, too."

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