Academic Pentathlon Student
Ross rules again – wins fifth Academic Pentathlon since 2018

April 15, 2024

The students on Ross Middle School’s Academic Pentathlon team lived up to the school’s sterling reputation Saturday, winning the countywide event for the fifth time since 2018.

“I’m in shock, but I shouldn’t be,” said Ross co-coach Crystal Case, who oversees the team with fellow teacher Gary Grant. “These kids worked so hard. They studied since November and have given up their free time to be on the team and practice.”

The event is organized and hosted by the Stanislaus County Office of Education in Modesto. It tests students on math, fine arts, literature, science and social science. There are also speech and essay tests, plus an exciting Super Quiz competition to wrap up the day.

Students are broken up into three divisions – Varsity, Scholastic and Honors – based on their grade-point averages. Points and medals are awarded to the top five finishers in each subject area in each division.

Ross dominated the 19th annual event by winning 31 medals overall to rack up 15,532.70 points overall. Blaker-Kinser Middle School of Ceres was second with 15,247.90.

Ross previously captured Academic Pentathlon titles in 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2022. It finished second last year. There was no competition in 2020, when the pandemic struck.

Ross also defended its title Saturday in the Super Quiz, the only event open to the public so family, friends and others can watch. In the Super Quiz, three students per academic category answer 10 questions under a time limit. Ross’ team earned 1,440 points to again edge out Blaker-Kinser, which was second with 1,360.

“It’s not like a sport where you get to compete multiple times,” Case said of the Academic Pentathlon. “It’s one big, intense day. You win or you don’t. Ross likes to win! Our school, district, and community support us in such a way that we have everything we need to achieve our goals.”

The theme of this year’s competition was “Technology and Humanity,” and questions in all the categories involved computers and other aspects of technology.

This year’s team – made up of 15 eighth-graders -- was particularly impressive in the essay portion of the Pentathlon, winning 10 of a possible 15 medals. That stage of the competition occurred in March at the school sites. Students were required to read the novel “Cinder” by Marissa Meyer. It is about a cyborg woman who faces challenges in the future. In the event, students had 40 minutes to write an essay online about the book.

“Some of the kids read the book two or three times,” Case said.

The extra effort clearly paid off.

In the Honors essay results, Ross’ Rose Devlin was first, followed by teammates Frances Akers (second), Stella Brown (fourth) and Silah Leazer (fifth). In the Scholastic division, Riley Vance-Rufino of Ross won gold, Braden Ballard was second and Alessandra Lazaro was third. Ross also swept the top three spots in the Varsity division with Julian Whiteside first, Jillian Wade second and Anthony Duran third.

Case said that “it speaks to high quality of writing instruction students receive at Ross that we were able to take 10 of 15 medals in the essay competition.”

Ross also excelled in the speech competition, with Vance-Rufino (first in Scholastic), Duran (second in Varsity) and Brown (second in Honors) all earning points. Each entrant was able to choose a topic and then compose and memorize a speech that had to be at least 3½ minutes but no more than four minutes long. Hughson Unified Superintendent Brenda Smith worked with the students to help them shape and deliver their speeches.

Vance-Rufino’s speech on ending child abuse was judged to be the best of any speech in any category and received the most points. Other Ross speeches covered topics such as feelings, cultural diversity and Generation Alpha slang.

Ross picked up six medals in science, including a sweep of the top three spots in the Varsity division from Wade, Duran and Whiteside, respectively. Other science medals went to Leazer (fourth in Honors), Lazaro (third in Scholastic) and Ballard (fourth in Scholastic).

Whiteside added gold medals in Varsity math and social science, Duran was first in Varsity fine arts and third in Varsity social science, Lazaro was third in Scholastic math, Elliot Burbank was second in Scholastic social science, Stella Brown was second in Honors fine arts, Rose Devlin was fourth in Honors fine arts, Frances Akers was fifth in Honors fine arts and Wade was second in Varsity fine arts.

Leazer, who also was third in Honors math and fine arts, led Ross with 2,914 points.

Other members of this year’s team were John McKee, Leanne Lopez and Colton Fontana.

Case and Grant chose the team in November. The members met two to four times a week during Pack Time, after school and some Saturday mornings. The students who chose to compete in the speech category also met once per week at lunch.

Case was the lead teacher for literature and speech and Grant advised on social science. Other Ross teachers who assisted were Ashlee Sloan (art), Jayce Jepson (math), and Adrianna Rodrigues and Chuck Eastham (science).

The discipline and hard work required to compete successfully in the Pentathlon will stay with the students, Case believes.

“The kids learn what commitment means,” she said. “The skills and character traits the kids acquire through participating in this brain sport are so valuable in life: confidence, teamwork, work ethic, commitment, perseverance and good sportsmanship.”