Former Dobie Academic Decathlon Coach Richard Golenko visits with his former pupil and current team Coach Steven Higginbotham, whose classroom is lined with momentos of the Longhorns' Academic Decathlon legacy.
By BRITTA GAMINO
Pasadena ISD Communications
Not unlike a Hollywood talent scout, Richard Golenko liked what he saw in Steven Higginbotham.
That was nearly two decades ago. Golenko was still basking in the scholastic limelight after leading Dobie High School to a national championship in Academic Decathlon in 1992. He had already set his sights on another title when he noticed a rail-thin, rigidly serious student sitting in his Latin class at Dobie one early autumn day.
Higginbotham eventually signed on for Dobie's Academic Decathlon team and was part of a squad that finished second at the state championships in 1995. Golenko would have to wait until the following year to claim his second national title.
But now the issue of whether the Longhorns can win a third national championship isn't one of Golenko's concerns. He's retired. When Dobie travels to Charlotte, N.C., next week for the national finals, Higginbotham will be in charge. Now a member of Dobie's history faculty, he's also the team's coach.
The journey from pupil to master has been one ripe with satisfaction for both Golenko and Higginbotham.
"I learned a lot on the way," Higginbotham says. "Most of my strategies were and still are a product of Golenko's experiences."
The Longhorns' chances of rescaling Academic Decathlon's national peak are promising but far from assured. Dobie won the state championship in El Paso seven weeks ago in a rout. But the Longhorns' score at state is currently the second-highest in the nation.
The team from Granada Hills Charter High School in Granada Hills, Calif., holds the top score and also the favorite's tag going into next Wednesday's first day of competition. Dobie's top score is a close second.
The national tournament wraps up on
A national title would break new ground for Dobie's tradition-rich program, if for no other reason than the Longhorns have never won a national championship under any coach other than Golenko, who held the mentor reins for 19 years. Higginbotham is in his fifth year.
"To be successful in Decathlon, as a competitor or as a coach, you have to have to want to feel the rush of competition and advancing to the next level," Golenko says.
"I've had three or four other students who have come through the program who are now coaching at other schools, but none of them are as successful as Steven."
After graduating from college, Higginbotham decided to apply for a faculty position at his alma mater. During his second year of teaching, he took over as head coach of the Academic Decathlon team.
Golenko credits his success as Academic Decathlon coach to his 35-year career as a Dobie teacher. His wife, Jane Golenko, who assisted her husband during his coaching years, is now serving as librarian at Pasadena High School.
As a student, Higginbotham says, Golenko challenged him to perform at a higher level.
"He had this humorous way of pointing out my inadequacies in my level of effort while I was on the team," recalled Higginbotham, "and in a way only Golenko could do."
Golenko admits that he misses coaching. He says he misses the intense approach to subject matter that comes with being a part of an Academic Decathlon team.
"Even though it's an extracurricular activity, you get to know your students a little deeper," Golenko says. "That's just something that you can't get from the everyday routine of regular classes."
Eddie Nunez, a senior, led the way for Dobie's dominant performance at the state championships. Nunez took home nine of the 33 individual medals won by the team and received the highest score in state varsity competition history.
Teammate Tad Walters earned a perfect essay score of 1,000, a rare achievement. The top overall scorer on the Dobie team this year was Jessica Huynh.
Dobie's 50,470 points was the most compiled by any of Higginbotham's teams.