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Manteca High School Academic Decathlon team competes in state championship next week
Manteca High School Academic Decathlon Advisor Michael McCullough, right, and decathlete Mahir Pepic proudly hold the championship cup the school earned during the 34th annual San Joaquin County Academic Decathlon. The team will be competing for the California championship next week in Sacramento. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Manteca High School’s Academic Decathlon Team is heading to the state competitions next week after capturing the top award in San Joaquin County earlier this month.

The Buffaloes’ academic decathlon team and its advisor, Michael McCullough, were recognized by the Manteca Unified Board of Trustees at their March 3 meeting, for emerging as the champion in the 34th annual San Joaquin County Academic Decathlon. As the top overall team, Manteca High received the Dave Sorgent Winner’s Cup which Superintendent Jason Messer proudly handed over to McCullough during the presentation of the recognition award. Messer happily noted that presenting the champion cup to Manteca was a huge honor since it was 10 years ago when the championship cup last made its way to the district.

Joining McCullough at the podium in receiving the awards from Board president Deborah Romero and MUSD Director of Secondary Education Clara Schmiedt was Mahir Pepic who received a $5,000 scholarship. He was one of five decathletes from different high schools in the county who received the University of the Pacific renewable scholarships for having met the university requirements and have shown a strong desire to attend the Stockton campus. McCullough said Pepic was a decathlon starter his junior year.

When the question was asked why the rest of the Manteca High academic decathlon team were not present at the award presentation, Pepic said they could not make it because they were busy preparing for the state competitions to take place on Thursday, March 19, in Sacramento.

Below is a complete list of the academic decathlon team members and the awards that they brought home in their respective categories, which includes several first-place honors:



Jessica (Si Jie) Tang – overall 2nd place; 1st place music, social science; 2nd place  mathematics, science; 3rd place art.

Gavin O’Malley – 1st place science; speech; 3rd place social science.

Kassandra Diaz



Mailee Danao – 2nd place language & literature; 3rd place social science.

Allyson Paul – 1st place music.

Alex Van – 2nd place music; 3rd place speech.



Dylan Vega – Overall 1st place; 1st place essay, mathematics, science; 2nd place social science.

Aaron (Aarondip) Singh – Overall 1st economics, social science; 2nd place mathematics, science.

Tony (Anthony) Escalante – 1st place art; 2nd place language & literature; 3rd place science.



Super Quiz 2nd place; Class School – (this is “a reference to the fact we handle Academic Decathlon as a class rather than as an after-school club,” explained McCullough” 1st place; Overall 1st place.

Even after capturing the championship award in this year’s San Joaquin County Academic Decathlon competitions, McCullough smilingly said that his team will still try to outdo that accomplishment next year. How? By beating the points they earned this year, he replied. Their championship points totaled 41,549.

The champion last year was Tracy High School which held that honor for four years in a row. It wrestled that honor from Lodi High School which also held the champion title for four years in a row.

Competing at the academic decathlon this year, with the competitions held at the San Joaquin County Office of Education and later at Lathrop High School, were 12 high schools in San Joaquin. The theme this year was New Alternatives in Energy. The competition included essay, interview, and speech competitions, objective tests in art, economics, language/literature, math, music, social science, science, and a high-energy Super Quiz.