Taft Scholars Finish 2nd in U.S. Contest

Times Staff Writer

In a disappointing finish Sunday, the Taft High School Academic Decathlon team came in second to its Texas rival, J.J. Pearce High School.

Taft ended the 10-event United States Academic Decathlon competition with 45,218 points. Pearce, of Richardson, Tex., posted 46,659.

Tournament officials said the totals were among the highest in the six-year history of the national competition.

The high, but losing score, was little consolation to the Taft team members who came to Texas from Woodland Hills with the goal of winning the second consecutive national title for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Marshall High School, in the Silver Lake area, won last year.


“We had high expectations. We gave it our best shot,” said Arthur Berchin, the Taft coach.

Taft’s six-member team and two alternates did not walk away empty-handed. In the medal count, they won six gold, five silver--including one for Douglas Korengold as a top-scoring alternate--and seven bronze. Additionally, team members Jeremy Singer and David Raikow won $5,000 in scholarships.

Taft was tremendous, said Pearce coach Linda Berger. “There’s no doubt about it, they’re awesome. The competition could have gone either way.”

This is the fourth time Pearce has captured the crown.


“I guess this means we don’t make Page 1,” Taft team member Jason Lowy said jokingly as he hoisted the second-place trophy over his head.

Parents who traveled with the team had to coax their children to smile while they snapped pictures.

“They’re very emotional right now,” said Sheila Raikow, whose son, David, won a $3,000 scholarship for being one of the overall top scorers.

“But emotion is how they got this far,” she added. “They were going to win. They expected nothing less.”


It was an especially bittersweet moment for Singer. The Tarzana senior was left off the original team roster. He pleaded for a spot and went on to win eight medals in the Los Angeles city tournament, a gold in the state meet, four national medals and a $2,000 scholarship.

“I’d give up everything for team gold,” he said.

In analyzing tournament results, Berchin said Taft did as well or better than he expected in the math, science, history, literature, economics, fine arts and Super Quiz parts of the competition. The team did not do as well, Berchin said, in the essay, speech and interview segments, he said.

“We lost in the subjective tests,” team member Lillian Morris said, her voice cracking and tears welling in her eyes. “That’s all I want to say, we lost in the subjective parts.”


When team members arrive back on campus today, they will be greeted with congratulatory banners that were draped across school buildings last Friday. Administrators also have scheduled a morning victory rally.

Other team members included Matthew Petach and David Hamburger and Ari Lehavi, who was an alternate.