CHICAGO — Proving themselves to be just about the best and brightest young people in the country, a team of nine study-hall superstars from John Marshall High School in Los Angeles won the U.S. Academic Decathlon for the second time in eight years Sunday, shattering scoring records and leaving 38 dejected opposing teams in their wake.
"We set this goal for ourselves a year ago, so we've been operating on the idea of delayed gratification and finally it's come," said Marshall's James Evrard, 17, who also won top individual honors at his level. "It's a big payoff. A lot of us didn't sleep last night (waiting for the results)."
In amassing 49,935 out of 60,000 possible points in the grueling two-day, 10-event competition, Marshall eclipsed the previous national decathlon record of 49,372 points, set by last year's champion, Woodland Hills' Taft High School.
Whitney Young High School of Chicago placed second with 48,075 points, and James E. Taylor High School of Houston took third place with 47,790.
Teams from Los Angeles have won five of the 14 academic decathlon national titles.
The decathlon is one of the nation's premier academic competitions, a battery of exams and contests that challenge students' abilities in such areas as literature, science and public speaking, leaving even the brightest mind dim and dragging after hours of brain-bending challenges.
In the moments before the team learned of its victory at a tension-filled awards banquet in the ballroom of the Palmer House hotel, Marshall team member Elsie Lau clutched her hand to her heart while Ann Rose Van, Paul Auerbach and Masaki Miyagawa embraced one another as they sat at their places at the round banquet table.
Hearing that they were champions, the whole team leaped to its feet. Sung Lee threw his fist in the air before the team was surrounded by a crush of well-wishers, including many parents who had flown from Los Angeles for the event.
"Marshall! Marshall! Marshall!" screamed Vicki Van, Ann Rose's mother.
"I was so nervous I almost passed out," she said.
Several members of the Marshall team, composed of an equal number of A, B and C students, also earned high individual honors.
Miyagawa was the highest scorer in the B-student division and Evrard took top honors among C students.
Other high scorers for Marshall were Steve Na, the third highest-scoring A student, and Auerbach, who placed second in the B-student division. Na was also recognized for being the Marshall team's top scorer.
By the time the Marshall team took the stage to receive the trophy, their 58 individual medals made them sound like a phalanx of armored infantry.
"I guess all that studying paid off," exclaimed Miyagawa.
The overall high scorer was Jane Peterson from Mankato West High School in Minnesota.
Marshall last won the national title in 1987, becoming media darlings when its team, drawn from the low-income, immigrant neighborhoods around the Los Feliz-area campus, beat teams representing wealthy, suburban schools from around the country.
Marshall coach Phil Chase, quick to point out that Marshall is a public, non-magnet school, credited his team's victory to the experience of its five returning members, Miyagawa, Auerbach, Na, Van and Linda Sui, and the team's willingness to study eight hours a day, six days a week for the past 10 months, after regular classwork.
The rigorous study schedule produced a championship team, but it took its toll.
"We're going to have some problems figuring out what to do with our spare time, because we've gotten so used to working all the time," said Evrard.
"I had no social life. . . . I haven't been out of the house in five months or something like that," said Doug Kleven, whose passion for dancing found little outlet during his tenure on the team. "At times you get mad and you don't like it because everyone around you is having fun, but in the long run it pays off."