Whiz kids face intense weeks of studying

February 25, 2003 12:00 am
SETTLING INTO a plush couch, Tioga High School academic decathlon team members Tara Garrett, left, and Meghan McKinney study notes and flashcards while Sean Rogers considers his answer. (Amy Alonzo/Copyright 2003, The Union Democrat).
SETTLING INTO a plush couch, Tioga High School academic decathlon team members Tara Garrett, left, and Meghan McKinney study notes and flashcards while Sean Rogers considers his answer. (Amy Alonzo/Copyright 2003, The Union Democrat).

By CLAIRE ST. JOHN

Simple childhood games like Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders become rigorous tests of brain power in the hands of Tioga High School's Academic Decathlon team members.

Instead of rolling dice to advance, the eight students, ranging from freshmen to seniors, have changed the rules to the once-easy games so that they must answer tough questions to compete.

Last week, while most Tioga High students enjoyed their Presidents Day vacation, the Academic Decathlon team was holed up in teacher Charlene Wrighton's Pine Mountain Lake home, preparing for the state competition being held March 7-9 in Modesto.

This will be the seventh year a Tioga High team has competed at the state level.

For the study week, Wrighton stocked her kitchen with bags of chips and plenty of coffee and caffeinated tea to keep the team members peppy through long hours of flipping countless flashcards, rewriting and practicing speeches and playing their altered versions of Trivial Pursuit, Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders.

The kids on the team mostly ignored a box of large binders with spines labeled music, economics, art and mathematics, having pored over them to win the county competition at the beginning of this month.

"We're just reviewing, getting the facts back in our heads, preparing," said senior Sean Rogers.

But last week was a cake walk compared to what the students call "hell week" — the week before any competition — when they are excused from school to spend 24 hours a day together in an unoccupied vacation house for uninterrupted study.

The close-knit kids will only be able to leave the house for the various extracurricular activities they participate in — basketball, volleyball, yearbook, student council and drama. They will make up their classwork after the decathlon.

But the eight have become accustomed to rigorous studying since they started meeting in July to absorb the reams of material needed to win the county competition, which they did Feb. 1.