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Sharp Student Gets a Competitive Edge : L.A. Unified: Rivalry propelled a University High senior to top ranking in the district’s academic decathlon.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The 17-year-old computer buff who scored the most points in the Los Angeles Unified School District’s academic decathlon said he studied hard because he was afraid of being outwitted by a junior teammate.

Jeffrey Twu, a senior at University High School in West Los Angeles, won $1,000 and a gold medal for racking up 8,815 points out of a possible 10,000--120 points more than his closest competitor. Results of the city contest, in which 504 students participated on teams representing 56 high schools, were announced Nov. 26.

A separate academic decathlon was held for other school systems in Los Angeles County. The winners from both events will compete in the same state finals in March.

“I had my team members to worry about, particularly one junior who is really good,” said Twu, who studied at least two hours daily during the month before the competition, held Nov. 16. “We really wanted to win.”

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Despite Twu’s score, his nine-member team lost to El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills by five points--the closest margin in the 11-year history of the city competition.

“The gods don’t like University High School,” said decathlon coach John Reece, whose teams have finished second four times and third three times since he began tutoring. The team this year won 50 medals, including 32 for individual performance.

Twu said the University team won as many condolences for its narrow defeat as congratulations for its high score. “A lot of people came up and said, ‘Gee, I’m sorry,’ ” Twu said.

In all, Twu took home 10 medals--four gold, one silver and five bronze--plus a two-foot-tall trophy. “I was so surprised,” said Jerry Twu, father of the whiz kid. “I thought he might win a bronze or a silver, but 10 of them? Wow!”

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Twu, whose favorite pastime is communicating with a network of pals through computer bulletin boards, missed only one question out of 50 in the science quiz, one of 10 categories in the 10-hour decathlon. He also took first place in an interview by judges. He failed to win a medal in only two categories--fine arts, in which he was given honorable mention, and speech. Twu said he had left his speech at home and had to ad lib from hastily scribbled notes.

The team also won the “Super Quiz,” a game show-style contest and the decathlon’s only public event, held before 2,000 spectators at Cal State Northridge.

An A student, Twu has received only three Bs in his high school career--in design crafts, English and Spanish. His favorite subject is science, particularly environmental science, which was the topic of the “Super Quiz.”

“It makes sense to study for something that has a purpose,” he said.

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The son of Taiwanese parents who immigrated to the United States more than 20 years ago, Twu has two brothers: Jim, 22, who was a member of the University High decathlon team five years ago, and Joseph, 13, whom the family is encouraging to prepare for the team.

Twu said he would like to begin premedicine studies next year. He hopes to win a National Merit Scholarship and attend Harvard University.


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