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Valley School Captures State Title

El Camino Real High of Woodland Hills defeats 49 teams for its fifth win in 10 years in California Academic Decathlon.

March 15, 2004|Regine Labossiere | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills won the California Academic Decathlon on Sunday for the fifth time in 10 years. The school has twice gone on to capture the national title.

The El Camino team scored 50,472 out of a possible 60,000 points. Four other Los Angeles Unified School District high schools -- Taft (third place), Granada Hills Charter (fourth), Los Angeles (sixth) and Marshall (seventh) -- finished in the top 10 of participating schools from throughout the state.

Fresno County's Edison High finished a close second with 49,995 points and Taft racked up 49,412 points.

"We can't believe it," said El Camino Real coach Melinda Owen. "It's the one thing that'll send you into a heart-attack panic moment," she said, referring to the moment when the second-place team was announced and she knew her team had won.

Adam Singer, El Camino Real's highest individual scorer, said no words could describe how he felt.

"I'm sweaty and I'm chilled all over. All emotions," he said.

Three other Southern California schools placed in the top 10 -- Simi Valley High in Ventura County took fifth place, Beverly Hills High was eighth, and Burbank High was 10th.

Moorpark High School in Ventura County, which won the national competition last year and is a perennial favorite, did not enter a team this year because its coach retired.

This year's weekend-long competition marked Granada Hills Charter's first appearance at the state finals, and one of the school's two coaches was not going to let her advanced pregnancy keep her from helping her team.

Gaby Scully put in two full days of coaching, then delivered her baby about 1 a.m. Sunday. She brought the newborn to the afternoon awards ceremony.

The 25th annual Academic Decathlon included 50 teams, all of which had won local contests for the right to compete in the state finals.

The competition is a trying and rigorous scholastic event in which teams consisting of eight to nine students try their best to memorize information on 10 subjects based on a theme.

The students are divided into three levels based on their grade-point averages of A, B or C. Each team consists of students from each level.

This year's theme was "America: Growth of a Nation." Questions in the 10 subjects, including economics, botany, music and art, are based on historical events, discoveries and works from the late 18th century to mid-20th century.

The last event in the decathlon is the game-show-style Super Quiz. This year, it was based on the Lewis and Clark expedition.

The Super Quiz took place at Sacramento's Rio Americano High School, and contestants, cheered on by families and friends, gathered in the gym Saturday afternoon.

Initial scoring of the oral portion put Fresno's Edison in first place. But on Sunday, when the written results were added, El Camino Real was pronounced the winner of the Super Quiz.

Students from El Camino Real weren't alone in taking home top prizes. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Academic Decathlon, the Sacramento law firm of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo gave a college scholarship of $1,500 to the overall highest scorer of the C-level students. Taft High School's Richard Kwak received the award.

The eight students and three coaches of the El Camino Real team spent all the time they could since early December preparing for the competition. They gathered at school Monday through Friday from 2:30 to 10 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to study.

"Rewards don't come without hard work," Singer said.

Prior to the state competition, El Camino Real coach Mark Johnson had said that botany was the team's worst subject. But at the state competition, El Camino Real won six individual medals in the field, the most the team got in any one subject.

Some of the awards had special meaning to the students.

Gary Fox, who won four individual awards, received a gold medal in the speech category. In the regional competition, Johnson recalled that Fox "was by far our worst speaker. For him to go up to gold is unbelievable."

"I didn't expect it at all," Fox said. "It was my dream come true."

The El Camino Real team will compete against 40 other teams in April during the U.S. Academic Decathlon in in Boise, Idaho. The students said they were nervous but excited.

El Camino Real's Owen said the school's upcoming appearance at the national contest would boost the image of LAUSD, often criticized for the low achievement-test scores of some of its schools.

"For all the complaints about L.A. Unified, we're always in the top 10," Owen said. "The strength of their programs really shows right there."

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