"You couldn't be at Taft and not hear about decathlon," Berdichevsky said. "The competitive intensity and the geeky quirkiness — that appealed to me."
He tried out in 1992 but said he balked at having to give a speech in the competition and dropped out to become decathlon beat reporter for the school paper, the Taft Tribune.
He tried again the next year, made the team and never left.
Berdichevsky, who became de facto captain, had boundless energy and enthusiasm. He was also terribly disorganized. He once lost the money team members had pooled to buy flowers for the school secretary.
"Benjamin Franklin was a brilliant person, but the one area where he had a shortcoming was order — and that's Daniel," Berchin said.
But he had an intensity unusual for a teenager. Berchin remembered a time when Berdichevsky fumbled during a competition.
"This will never happen again," Berdichevsky told him.
At the city competition in the 1993-94 season, he scored 9,297 points, a record that stood until 2008. In 1994, the team made it to the nationals and won.
Berdichevsky started DemiDec during his senior year at Taft.
The company has carved out a place in the cottage industry of decathlon by infusing its guides and other study aids with Berdichevsky's self-described nerdy humor. (One guide included a doctored photo of his dog piloting an airplane and a passage comparing the development of a city to an episode of "Battlestar Gallactica" in which survivors are sent to the far corners of the universe to restart civilization.)
As he continued to build DemiDec, he spent a year at Harvard, then transferred to Stanford, where he earned a bachelor's degree in science, technology and society and a master's degree in history. (He returned to Harvard and obtained a master's in public policy from theJohn F. KennedySchool of Government in 2005.)
As the Berdichevsky family home in a gated Woodland Hills community began filling with stacks of study guides, his family supported him — and even spent late nights helping him hand-address marketing mailers to hundreds of high schools.
His mother, Rosie, helps run the business when he's on the road.
The company has a dozen mostly part-time employees who plan curricula and write tests, and nearly 700 schools are customers.
Berdichevsky says the company does well enough to pay him a salary, but he plows the money into the Scholar's Cup instead. The competition, which he started in 2006, is a high-tech, collaborative version of the decathlon. It has grown to include about 2,000 teams from more than 30 countries; the international round of the competition, with more than 300 teams, was held last month in Bangkok.
He said he supports himself with earnings from tech-industry projects he worked on during and after his time at Stanford, including research and development work for Casio, the consumer electronics manufacturer.
He says he's home a few days a month, usually to see his dog, a Pomeranian named Luli. Once a year, he and a former college roommate take an adventurous vacation: In recent years, they've trekked in the mountains of Nepal and the jungles of Madagascar.
The competition had ended in Albuquerque, and the winning students made their way across the stage to collect medals. Berdichevsky zipped around the room.
He talked to students about serving as practice testers for DemiDec's materials next year. He was onstage for the announcement that U.S. Academic Decathlon would send a delegation to the Scholar's Cup final in Bangkok. And he had a silver alpaca pinned to his lapel.
He was beaming like the students. He rushed to Ohio's table after a school from that state pulled off a surprise win in its division. Then he darted across the room to be with the winning Granada Hills team members as they reveled in a moment that he knows well.
The ceremony wound to a close, marking an end of decathlon for most of those in attendance. They would leave Albuquerque for a world centered on prom and finals and graduation.
Not DemiDec Dan. He was off to the airport, heading for Dubai and then Jakarta, where the next competition would soon begin.