Classmates Cheer Victors of Academic Decathlon

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Laguna Hills High School juniors Jay Kim and Ryan Sakamoto were treated like conquering heroes as they strode into their sixth-period class Monday.

"Hey, can you come look at my notes?" yelled one female classmate amid a round of applause and cheers for the two friends as they appeared in the doorway.

Celebrity status. Instant fame.

Such was the attention bestowed upon the nine-member Laguna Hills Academic Decathlon team that beat out 46 other high schools in Saturday's California Academic Decathlon for the right to be called the smartest group of teen-agers in the state.

Announcements that the team was the best in the state were made over a loudspeaker, flowers and cards were sent from boosters, and a special assembly was planned for Friday.

"It's been like this all day," said team captain Jeff McCombs, an 18-year-old senior who has been a member of the Academic Decathlon team since he was a freshman.

"We walked into class and everyone clapped," McCombs said.

All but one member of the team, made up of juniors and seniors, attended school on Monday. They all had the same story to tell.

"I got a congratulations card from a girlfriend," said 17-year-old senior Jeff DeWit, who said that his calculus class threw the team an early-morning bash.

Saturday's come-from-behind win was particularly sweet for the Laguna Hills team because it were considered an underdog to the El Camino High School team from Woodland Hills in Los Angeles County.

But drawing on their knowledge of American Indians, the Laguna Hills teammates, representing all of Orange County, pulled ahead and garnered 45,361 points, compared to El Camino's 44,829.

"We're still in the glow," said Principal Wayne Mickaelian on Monday as he fielded phone calls and accepted handshakes from faculty members who passed his office.

Students and teachers shared Mickaelian's upbeat mood.

"I think it's great. It's well deserved," 15-year-old Michelle Moore said as she walked through the center of the campus. "They worked really hard for this."

Art teacher Dalynn Malek agreed.

"This whole year has been a nice year, both in academics and in sports," Malek said, adding that the school recently won a California Intercollegiate Federation title in soccer.

"The overall school spirit is at an all-time high," Malek said. "This is the frosting on the cake,"

With the state title in hand, the nine juniors and seniors have earned a shot at competing with the best academic decathlon teams in the nation. That contest will be held April 20 to 22 in Des Moines, Iowa.

But next week, the team is going to have to buckle down to its normal backbreaking schedule in preparation for the national event, said coaches Kathy Lane and Roger Gunderson.

Since September, Lane said, the team has put in hundreds of hours of study time, meeting almost every day after school and on most weekends. To do well in the national, the group will have to continue that pace.

"These kids are phenomenal," Gunderson said. "We really believe in them. We really believe they can win. They certainly have what they need to do the job."

To get the job done, Lane and Gunderson said, they will begin training for Des Moines by having team members bone up on subjects in which they are weakest, such as fine arts and literature.

"They come up with some pretty obscure quotes from people you wouldn't normally know about," agreed team member Michael Lee, a 17-year-old senior.

Other members of the team are Jack Dietz, Julian Kingston and Bill Fischer, all 17-year-old seniors; and Todd Faurot, 16, a junior.

Principal Mickaelian said that much of the cost of the airfare and lodging for the students will be paid out of a $5,000 grant the team earned on Saturday in the state contest.

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