Five students decked out in red polos take their places at a table. In their arsenals, they each carry scratch paper, cat-like reflexes, and a rapid intellect. Adjacent is another table filled with students from an opposing team. The buzzers sound, as each team completes a quick technical buzzer check, and then the game commences. With each team member specializing in a different category – from humanities to math and science – the MC Academic League team proves to be an intellectual force outside of the classroom and standard course curriculum.
Though the team’s record this year was not considered ideal by team members, with the varsity team and the freshmen team each going two and four, and the JV team going one and five, senior Daniel Hizal relays the highlights of the 2015-2016 season.
“We didn’t do too great,” Hizal said. “But most of our matches were really close and the freshmen team beat the two best teams in the league – CCA and Rancho Bernardo.”
Following the close of the season, seniors gave their farewells to their experience on the Academic League team. For seniors Daniel Hizal and Ajay Manickam, current varsity team members and freshmen team coaches, Academic League has been integrated into all four years of their high school career.
“It’s something that I really enjoyed doing my four years,” Hizal said. “There’s always something that people find on campus normally that really makes them attached and for me, that was definitely Academic League.”
Manickam reverberates similar sentiments.
“When Academic League season starts, it ends up taking quite a few hours out of your week and you spend a lot of time with other people,” Manickam said. “You really get to know the people on your team, so I think probably what I’m going to miss the most is seeing those people, especially since I’m graduating.”
With the season over, Hizal reflects on the best memories of the season, recalling a light-hearted moment during freshman year.
Hizal chuckles, “Freshman year. Ava Scally. This was our first match against Poway and we’re going through and we’re all saying our names. Ajay was also on the team so we’re going through our names and then Ava says her name is Ajay and everyone starts laughing. We just always tease her about it. I think one of the freshman almost messed up on their name and it was like throwback.”
Both Hizal and Manickam, when looking back over their high school experience, highlight the specificities of what they have learned from the team.
“It’s helped me get a bit outside of my comfort zone because before I was in Academic League, I considered myself more of a math and sciences person,” Manickam said. “But then as I went through Academic League and was forced to specialize in different categories, like, for a couple years, I was focused on humanities so that’s helped me be more rounded out in the things that I know about, so that way I’m not just a math and sciences person but I can also now recall facts now about other subjects of study.”
However, the lessons they have learned from Academic League transcend just pure academics. For Manickam, being the coach to the freshmen team gave way to personal growth, allowing him to gain a new perspective on the definition of teamwork.
“[Coaching] has been very interesting. It’s kind of interesting seeing Academic League, or just a competitive team, from the perspective of a coach,” Manickam said. “As a student, you tend to be a little bit more single-minded and more about yourself, but when you’re a coach, more of your focus is on making sure the team members can work with each other. I think that’s kind of the difference […]. Even though your coach is telling you that you need to focus on working with other people, still, your basic instinct is telling you ‘yea but you need to focus on making sure that you do well on your own too.’ [Coaching] just lends a different perspective on working with other people.”
Yet, the aforementioned inner competition does not detract from the team dynamic, only pushing the team further.
“Mostly, it’s very friendly,” Hizal said. “There’s a lot of inner competition because everyone wants to be the best but it’s just really friendly. No one is really enemies on the team.”
For those looking into possibly joining the Academic League family, Manickam recommends the following.
“Get involved with Quiz Bowl because they meet twice a week. Right now they’re meeting Mondays and Thursdays at lunch,” Manickam said.
With the final ring of the timer, the match ends and a winner is announced. Though, for seniors in particular, the ringing of the last buzzer signals the end of an era. Yet regardless, all members of Academic League leave the table with refined buzzer-pressing reflexes and a wide spectrum of new knowledge and camaraderies.