Hilo High's Academic Decathlon team hopes to keep its 11-year state championship streak going this year. In the front row are Brian Cama, left, Clay O'Neill and Thomas Matthews; in the middle row are Kaniel Yano and Jin Izawa; and in the back row are Kyle Evans, Chris Todd, Eli Robinson and Danielle Takeshita.

‘AcaDec’ brings Hilo pride

The school has won 11 consecutive
state championships in the Academic Decathlon

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Academic Decathlon is a grueling competition, which for the past 22 years has challenged high school students in 10 categories from economics to impromptu speech and touching upon nearly everything in between. This year's theme is "Understanding the Natural World."

Competition is first held on a state level, with the winning team from each state going on to compete at the national level. Hilo High's Academic Decathlon team has been the state champion for the past 11 straight years and has placed as high as sixth nationally. Many of its members have also won individual gold medals at the national competition, which was held this year in Erie, Pa., last week.

Hilo High's team, known as "AcaDec" among those who live and breathe it, did not achieve its victory streak by luck or chance. "We studied three to four hours a day and gave up about 90 percent of our lives," recalls Tien Chi, a former team member who is now attending the Illinois Institute of Technology.

The team's adviser, Dane Nelson, who also teaches computer science at Hilo High, adds, "Hard work, sacrifice and commitment will always yield outstanding results." Nelson has been the team's instructor throughout its Hawaii championship reign.

This year's team captain, Brian Cama, says of Nelson: "He is the reason our team is so good. He keeps us together."

Chi concurs: "He connects with the students and makes the material interesting. He's great at motivating us."

Commitment is important because Academic Decathlon competitions are in March and April, and Hilo High's team begins studying the previous summer. As soon as the school year starts, the team spends three hours a day studying together, with Friday and Saturday their only days off.

Once February comes around, team members spend every possible moment studying. One can often catch AcaDec kids sneakily reading their study materials during class time. Chi advises anyone interested in AcaDec, "Your school work will suffer, and you'll spend every spare moment looking at notes, but it's all worth it when you win a medal at nationals."

This year's team has already won the state championship and is ranked 15th in the nation. Nelson says he has "high hopes of them cracking the top 10. ... They are a bit younger (than past teams), but they show a lot of promise." By "younger," Nelson refers to the lack of seniors on the team. While previous teams have had many, this year's team has only one senior, Danielle Takeshita, who is also the sole female. The remaining eight are six juniors and two freshmen. Of course, this is good news for next year's team.

Despite the youth factor, there is also the pressure of coming from a school with a record like Hilo High's. Yet, AcaDec members see past it.

"After taking three tests a day for several months, we don't think about anything except the questions in front of us," Cama says. "No anxiety."

He feels confident about his team's prospects, saying, "If we work hard enough, we could place in the top 10."

Academic Decathlon categories are economics, mathematics, literature, science, art, music, speech, interview, essay and social science. "Superquiz" is a special "roaming" category that takes the place of one other random category each year.

Students are naturally stronger in certain categories than others, but AcaDec forces them to diversify. For example, AP economics is not a course offered at Hilo High, but after studying economics all year for AcaDec, many students have passed the AP Economics Exam for college credit. Some students come with little or no knowledge of art and music, but they leave with a much greater understanding.

Throughout the years and the victories, students have come and gone from Hilo High's AcaDec team. The only constants are hard work and Nelson's leadership. Add to that the necessity of having to raise enough money for the trip to the mainland to compete. Nelson says that donations are always welcome and may be sent to Hilo High School, 556 Waianuenue Ave., Hilo, HI 96720.


You asked

If you were to write a bill that would be made into law, what would it be?

Compiled by John Shim, Hilo High School

Charade Grant-Johnson

"No use of cell phones while you are driving. If you need to answer the phone, you need to park somewhere."

Veronica Garcia

"There should be more checks and control on the Department of Education by the local communities in order to help students."

Dhebhie Sy

"Eliminate the death penalty because some people could be innocent."

Laura Paopao

"They should pay more (school) teachers to teach driver's ed because not everyone can afford private lessons."

Tiana Santiago

"Outlaw death row sentences in prison. If someone commits a terrible crime, killing them would be too easy. They don't have to deal with what they did."

Ashley Warner

"People should be able to work at the age of 14 instead of 15."


"Same-sex marriage should be legalized; a person should be allowed to marry anyone, despite their gender. It's not fair that two men or two women can't marry because of their sexual preference. It's not right."

Brandon Echavez

"I think it would have to be anti-violence. You know, tighten the laws on assault and homicide crimes."

John Shim

"A bill to give tax breaks for small, struggling businesses."


About this page

Each week, Hawaii's teenage reporters and photographers tell us about their high school. This week's school is Hilo High School.

Newspaper: The Viking
Editors: Cheyne Mathey-Owens, Nicole Mangiboyat and Alana Kansaku-Sarmiento
Faculty adviser: Diane Lum-King Li
Next week: Seabury Hall

Viking facts

Address: 556 Waianuenue Ave., Hilo, HI 96720
Phone: 808-974-4021
Fax: 808-974-4036
Web site:
Mascot: Viking
Colors: Blue and gold
Principal: Katherine Webster
Students: 1,550

Hilo High School

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