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Casa Grande's Academic Decathlon dynasty keeps rolling

Rick Pillsbury's classroom at Casa Grande High School looks much like a shrine to a successful athletic program. Trophies line the counters three deep in places and walls are covered with photos of smiling students laden with medals.

Upon closer examination, the trophies aren't for athletic victories but feats of the mind.

The highly decorated Casa Grande Academic Decathlon team, under the tutelage of Pillsbury and first-year coach Andrew Aja, will again head to the state competition March 14-17 in Sacramento. It is a journey that has become almost routine because the Gauchos have represented Sonoma County as the top "AcDec" team for 29-straight years.

But each year, the Gauchos must start again -- building a team of about 30 students who fall into one of three academic categories: A students, B students and C students. Students must be willing to spend 2.5 hours a week throughout the school year learning a single subject inside and out.

"Often times, there are very bright people who are not motivated by grades," said Pillsbury, the veteran Casa Grande teacher who has led the Gauchos decathlon team for 29 years. "This sort of thing appeals to them and they get turned on."

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