St. Apollinaris parent Carrie Bacci has lost at least one night of sleep every March for the past three years.
Bacci is the volunteer coach of the Catholic school’s Academic Decathlon Team — a group of 10 students who commit themselves to five months of rigorous study in order to compete in a statewide competition.
Preparation begins in October with three study sessions per week. The official Decathlon takes place in early March.
Bacci said she is never able to sleep the night before the team competes, because of nervousness.
“There’s a tremendous amount of material to learn,” she said. “You feel such a responsibility in making sure the kids are prepared.”
Bacci is in her fourth year volunteering as coach for the St. Apollinaris team. Her daughter, a seventh-grader, is on the squad this year. Bacci’s oldest son, now a sophomore at Vintage High, also competed in the Decathlon. Her youngest son is a St. Apollinaris fourth-grader.
“As a coach, she’s very supportive. She does a great job recognizing the role every student plays,” former Decathlon member Lauren Bickell said. “She’s very even-tempered, and very calm.”
Bickell, now 16, was on the team in both seventh and eighth grades. After graduating from St. Apollinaris, Bickell wrote a letter to Bacci thanking her for the learning experience and all her efforts as coach.
Bickell said the workload for the Decathlon team can be “very overwhelming,” but Bacci knows how to make it fun.
“A couple weeks before the event, she’ll have us play different games like Jeopardy! or Trivial Pursuit,” Bickell said.
While she does have the help of extra coaches, Bacci said the volunteer role feels more like a full-time job because of all the preparatory work required before each study session.
The team is composed of 10 students — five seventh-graders and five eighth-graders — who are selected by the school based on teacher recommendations, test scores, and grades.
Beginning in October, the team meets three times a week for about 40 minutes of studying. The kids have to prepare for 10 academic tests: Two team-based tests and eight individual tests, where selected team members have to demonstrate knowledge in Roman Catholic doctrine, English, literature, science, math, current events, social studies and fine arts. The study guides go “above and beyond” the regular studies for junior high school students, Bacci said.
“If you don’t want extra homework, it’s not the team for you, for sure,” Bacci said.
The Academic Junior High Decathlon is a statewide competition for Catholic school students in grades 6 through 8. Awards are given to individuals and teams, and the winning school from each diocese competes in the state championship in May.
The classroom is where Bacci said she feels most comfortable. Before moving to Napa with her husband and children in 2000, she taught first- and second-grade for about 10 years. After enrolling her children at St. Apollinaris, she became an active classroom volunteer. Because of her education background, the school later approached her for the Decathlon coaching position.
In Bacci’s first two years as coach, the St. Apollinaris team won second place in the Santa Rosa diocese. Last year, the team took first place in the diocese but did not win the state championship.
Parent Tracy Martin said teaching the students time management and effective study methods is “half the battle.” Martin, whose son is on this year’s team, said Bacci does a “great job” breaking down each subject and teaching students how to study.
“It’s a very generous time commitment on her behalf,” Martin said. “I know it’s appreciated by all the parents and students involved.”