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Los Angeles Unified is Academic Decathlon's star student

The nation's troubled second-largest school system doesn't get a lot of respect — except when it comes to the Academic Decathlon.

April 28, 2011|By Rick Rojas, Los Angeles Times

They spend the year poring through guidebooks the size of a dictionary. The coaches will also sift research materials of their own. And they bring in teachers with particular expertise to help students learn the material.

An intense competition has emerged between high schools in Los Angeles, as cross-town rivals strive to beat each other at the regionals and pass them up at the state level.

"We've formed this tradition to take this very seriously, more so than other schools in California," said Arthur Berchin, who led Taft to three national wins. "It's become a rivalry in our district. As a result, we've done well."

Coaches often share tips, and veterans take rookies under their wing. Coaches of teams that had been Granada Hills' rivals just weeks ago came by recently to work with students who needed help.

In a district that gets a fair share of criticism, winning the Academic Decathlon adds a level of prestige, said Spencer Wolf, a Granada Hills coach.

Eugene Lee, a Granada Hills senior and a top scorer in math, spent his spring break working on his weaker areas: drilling for the Super Quiz and practicing his speech. He said the team is focused now on one thing: winning.

"It's always in the back of our minds," he said.

rick.rojas@latimes.com

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