Laguna Hills Senior Wins Decathlon : Academics: Santa Ana's Foothill High School finishes first in small-school division.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A Laguna Hills High School senior took top honors in the individual competition and Santa Ana's Foothill High School finished first in the small-school division Sunday in the California Academic Decathlon.

"It was really tough; we expected it to be that way," said Laguna Hills High's Jeff Ferrell, an 18-year-old Harvard-bound scholar who won the individual competition. It was the fifth time Laguna Hills has won the right to compete statewide as Orange County's representative in the academic decathlon, Ferrell noted.

The Laguna Hills team finished second overall in the competition, losing narrowly to a team of nine students from Taft High School in Woodland Hills. Taft advances to the national competition next month. Laguna Hills has won the state competition twice--in 1990 and 1991.

"I was really happy with what we did," Ferrell said. "That's what it's all about, putting in all the time and effort. The results aren't really that important."

Foothill High finished sixth overall in the competition among 46 teams from throughout the state, but first in the small-school division, which includes schools with enrollment of fewer than 1,000 students.

Lisa Blaydes, captain of the Foothill High team, finished first in the state in the economics category.

"I missed one," said said Blaydes, who has been accepted at UC Berkeley, West Point, Dartmouth and Rice universities.

One of Blaydes' teammates, Jane Park, a junior, also finished first in fine arts.

"She did all this after breaking a leg the night before competition," Blaydes said. "I wish I could say we were studying. She was doing barrel rolls down the hall and she heard a snap and the next thing she knew she was at the hospital and had broken her leg."

Ferrell, who competed on the Laguna Hills team that advanced to the state competition last year, said he was "disappointed a little bit" at not winning the state title.

Ferrell took first-place honors in the most competitive grouping of high school students. One of his Laguna Hills teammates, Paul Cary, also finished first in the state in the varsity division for students with C averages in high school.

Also competing for Laguna Hills were Aaron Brunstetter, David Huang, Karen Gross, Tedd Lehman, David Ochi, Mike Pienat and Chris Shortell.

The Foothill High School team was coached by Judy Heaton Weightman. The student team members are Blaydes, Andrea Claus, Caroline Djang, Devin Francis, Janet Lin, Jack Oak, Charles Liu and Jane Park.

Forty-five schools from across the state competed in the California Academic Decathlon for the right to advance to the national competition. Taft scored 46,903 points out of a possible 60,000 in the weekend-long tournament, squeaking by Laguna Hills, which received 46,213.

At a tension-filled awards luncheon here on the University of the Pacific campus, the jubilant Taft squad--eight boys and one girl--was announced the champion of the 14th annual California contest, capturing Taft's third state decathlon title since 1988.

"I'm shaking," Taft coach Michael Wilson said, nervously wringing a handkerchief even as he beamed over his team's victory. "Right now I'm completely emotional."

"I feel unbelievable," said team captain Christopher Hoag, 18, beads of sweat still on his face from the anxiety of the 2 1/2-hour ceremony. "That was the hardest three hours of my life."

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