The “competitive spirit” and academic decathlon coach: Robert Grebel!


Edward Lillie, Reporter

A test of skill, wits, and strategy, the Academic Decathlon has been a part of school culture since 1979. Testing in ten different skill areas, students are asked to study for months on end; even after school is over (both the day and year). It is incredibly difficult to get to the national level of competition. Students spend the entire season working towards State and making their coaches proud. This year is Coach Grebel’s final year as the Academic Decathlon leader. Scoring fourth out of forty-six schools in the San Bernardino Academic Decathlon, Don Lugo unfortunately did not make it to state. Don Lugo’s team did manage to score better than Chino Hills High School who would score tenth place, making it an emotional night for the decathletes and their coach.

Credit goes to San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools
Academic Decathlon team of 2018/2019 season with all their awards at the Academic Decathlon Awards Banquet

Mr. Grebel labeled himself as a “competitive spirit” in high school and he was ranked 8th in his graduating class. “Nothing academically challenged me,” Mr. Grebel shared; further stating that those results might have been different if he had tried to challenge himself with AP classes. Mr. Grebel has coached Academic Decathlon at various schools since 1995, and started his academic decathlon journey here at Lugo four years ago. The story goes that there were major budget cuts happening and jobs were being removed and offered. Mr. Grebel was told by someone higher up that “whatever you do, just say yes” at any opportunities he was offered. About a week later, at a teacher meeting, without even being told what was offering, his hand shot up. He wanted to keep his job here at Lugo, and the position offered was the coach of academic decathlon.

“You have to have a numb nut, that’s crazy enough to do this.””

— Robert Grebel

Academic Decathlon is not just about testing your smarts, Grebel wants to teach students about gear that they didn’t originally know they had. He would like to breed a bit of competitiveness in his decathletes, and teach them that when you win something to be proud of it and don’t act like you expected it. Many of the decathletes as well as Mr. Grebel himself would label their team as the underdogs. While most other teams in the county would work with three to four coaches, Grebel was mostly by himself in his coaching. He states that he doesn’t play well with others, and would much rather work by himself. He does say that other schools most likely avoid the burnout by distributing the work load between various coaches. Mr. Grebel loves the underdog aspect because it teaches the team that it’s more rewarding when they win, rather than expecting to get a high rank and getting it.

“Have you ever broken down due to the significance of your accomplishment?””

— Robert Grebel

Mr. Grebel would like to think that he builds closer bonds between students than other schools. Senior Natalie Lambert, who has joined Grebel in Academic Decathlon for all four years, loved the family aspect of the team. She states, “It started off as not a family, and then towards the middle after we got to get to know each other it was a family, and then towards the end, we started to lose it. Last season was really, really hard for us, but at the end we pulled it together, and we were a family again.” Even if there were troubles in the team, they would always come together and get it done.

Credits to San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools
Decathletes (left to right) Sam Magadan, Natalie Lambert, and Rigoberto Rosales competing in Superquiz 2018/2019

He compares the competitiveness of the coaches in the district to “The Long Walk” by Stephen King. In that story, there is an annual race of one hundred teenage boys who have to walk at a specific pace with other insane rules. If these rules are not followed, the boys first get a verbal warning. If they continue to break the rules, they are eliminated and killed from the competition. There is one winner at the end of the walk, and they are rewarded with whatever they want for the rest of their life.

The competitor in this simply wants a break to enjoy life. Grebel admits that “It’s so taxing… getting here at 4:30 in the morning,” gets very repetitive and robotic. He just wants to relax. This isn’t his first time retiring from Academic Decathlon. “I want to spend more time with my family,” Grebel confesses. He is very proud of the hard work and effort his team has put into to each season, especially to the students that have joined him for the entirety of the last four years. He thanked everyone from his freshman to his senior decathletes for joining him, and he wishes luck to anybody who carries on the Academic Decathlon next year.