April 21, 2000
In their first attempt ever in
a Japanese language and culture competition, two Hilltop High
students took first place at the National Japan Bowl in Washington,
D.C., earlier this month.
Anton Serikov, a Russian immigrant who is a junior, and Mayo Ibarra, a sophomore who moved from Japan to Chula Vista as a toddler, took first place in their division in the competition that drew 75 teams from 48 high schools across the United States. In a different division, a second Hilltop team consisting of Mayo's sister, Aya, a senior and Tristan Hudson, a junior, finished fourth and a Bonita Vista team finished third.
The students' journey to Washington, D.C., began in February when they won their divisions at the San Diego competition sponsored by the Japan Society of San Diego and Tijuana. In that competition, Hilltop High fielded three teams-two in Level II and one in Level III. Mayo and Anton won the Level III competition. Aya Ibarra and Tristan Hudson won first place in the Level II San Diego competition. The third Hilltop team consisting of senior Enrique Meza, senior Carlos Avila and junior Suzanne Ito took second place and a team from Bonita Vista High took third place.
As in the San Diego competition, the national competition tested the students' knowledge on language, proverbs, current events, history and the written characters known as kanji.
The Japan Bowl competitions were nerve-wracking, Anton said, but they have encouraged him to excel in studying the language.
"As long as we were going to play, I was going to win," Anton said. "I aim for the top." Japanese is one of the most complex languages in the world, but it has been a fun learning experience for the students, they said.
"After the character barrier, you just blast off," Mayo said. The Hilltop and Bonita Vista students have been practicing twice a week since October under the guidance of teacher Mitsuyo Fukuda.
"They are top students and they studied so hard," Fukuda said.
Hilltop High continues bringing in the honors. The school's Academic Decathlon team was the first school south of Interstate 8 to win the County Academic Decathlon in the competition's 17-year history, and Hilltop is one of only 12 nationwide to receive a National Academy Foundation Grant to launch an academy of information and technology on campus.
"The board applauds the hard work students and teachers do every day in the classroom, and it's rewarding that other groups recognize their achievements as well," said board President Greg Sandoval.