El Camino 2nd in Academic Decathlon


A team from Laguna Hills High School in Orange County edged out El Camino Real High School of Woodland Hills to win the California Academic Decathlon, officials announced Saturday.

The Laguna Hills team finished fifth in the Decathlon "Super Quiz" on Friday and was not considered to be a top contender for the overall title. Team member Jeff DeWit, 17, of Laguna Hills said he and his teammates arrived at the awards ceremonies Saturday hoping at best for a spot among the top five teams.

The Laguna Hills team scored 45,361 points in the two-day academic contest to beat second-place finisher El Camino Real, which scored 44,829.

"This is so amazing," said Laguna Hills team captain Jeff McCombs. "We knew we'd be in the top five, but we didn't know how close we were."

Members of the El Camino Real team, representing the Los Angeles Unified School District, were disappointed with their second-place finish. Some cried after the announcement of the winner.

"We knew it was going to be close, but I'm proud of all my kids," said Coach Mark Johnson. "Part of the emotion is that it's over, that after spending so many hours together, it's finally over." Despite their disappointment, team members echoed Johnson's sentiments.

"We lost to a great team so we can't feel bad about it," said El Camino Real team member Jon Lynn.

This year's state contest drew about 500 students and coaches from 46 teams representing counties throughout California. The 10-event academic contest, which is held over two days, tests students in subjects such as music, mathematics and economics.

The Academic Decathlon's Super Quiz, which is held in a gymnasium full of supporters, tests student knowledge as well as the ability to perform under pressure.

Los Angeles-area teams have won the Super Quiz in the last six contests, with two Los Angeles city schools also winning national titles in the last three years.

John Marshall High School in Silver Lake beat the Texas state champion team in 1987 to win the U.S. Academic Decathlon. Taft High School in Woodland Hills placed second in the national contest the next year.

In 1989, Taft again won the state decathlon and went on to win the national title.

The El Camino Real team defeated 54 other Los Angeles city teams to win the district title in November.

The nine-member Academic Decathlon teams are by contest rules composed of equal numbers of A, B and C students. The statewide contest was first held in 1979.

The Laguna Hills team beat 49 other Orange County schools to win the county competition in November. Last year's Laguna Hills team also won the county title, but it finished fifth in the state competition.

Laguna Hills Coach Kathy Lane said that after the announcements of a large number of individual medal winners on her team, "We knew we were in the hunt." She and Roger Gunderson have coached the Academic Decathlon team since 1983.

The Laguna Hills team now advances to the U.S. Academic Decathlon in Des Moines, Iowa, next month.

Wilson High School, in Hacienda Heights, finished first in the Super Quiz. The team, which represented Los Angeles County, finished fourth in the overall contest behind third-place winner Palo Alto High School of Santa Clara County. Laguna Hills finished third in the Super Quiz.

Ananp Sahai, 17, a senior at Thousand Oaks High School in Ventura County, had the highest overall point total in all categories.

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