Granada Hills Charter High wins L.A. Unified's Academic Decathlon

Granada Hills Charter High records the highest team score in the history of L.A. Unified's Academic Decathlon

Granada Hills Charter High School won Los Angeles Unified's annual Academic Decathlon, recording the highest team score in the competition's 47-year history, officials said Friday.

The school, a three-time national decathlon champion located in the west San Fernando Valley, earned a score of 54,292.1 out of a possible 60,000 points in the grueling 10-event competition that tests students in science, literature, arts, music, social science, economics and mathematics.

Irene Lee, a Granada Hills senior, tied the all-time individual record set in 2009 with a score of 9,461.4 out of a possible 10,000.

"I was in utter disbelief," she said.

To make room for the intensive study required, Irene said, she had to sacrifice time for her social life, orchestra and volunteering. But seeing her teammates blossom in confidence and esteem as they claimed their trophies Friday at the awards ceremony at Hollywood High made it worth it, she said.

El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills, another perennial decathlon powerhouse with seven national titles, placed second with a team score of 53,423. The two schools will advance to the state decathlon in Sacramento next month, along with John Marshall, Franklin, Garfield, Bell, Hamilton, North Hollywood, Van Nuys, Grant and Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy.

The high school decathlon features a broad theme — this year, alternative energy — and multiple-choice tests, speeches, essays and interviews. Each school's nine-member team must reflect varying grade-point averages.

Regional competitions are held to qualify for state and national contests. L.A. Unified counts as its own regional division; more than 500 students on 59 teams participated this year.

In the Los Angeles County decathlon, South Pasadena High School took top honors with a tally of 52,572.50 points, while Mark Keppel High placed second with 48,390.50. They will advance to the state competition with Beverly Hills, Edgewood, Redondo Beach, West and South. Nearly 500 students on 55 teams competed.

The county's top decathlete was South Pasadena senior Elise Matsusaka, who scored 9,119.2.

Elise, 17, said she began preparing last spring when the materials for the 2015 contest were released. She has put in about 30 hours a week during the school year — all on top of her five Advanced Placement classes.

This year's theme didn't initially spark her interest, she said, and she struggled to sort out the plethora of energy and environmental agencies, laws and policies. But before long, her intellectual curiosity kicked in and she enjoyed new arenas of learning.

The biggest payoff, Elise said, has been the teamwork she's learned and the close bonds developed helping fellow decathletes succeed.

"We're like a little family now, and it's really cool," she said.

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

Twitter: @TeresaWatanabe

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