Only hours after they placed fourth in a grueling statewide Academic Decathlon, eight Moorpark High School students were honored Monday with cheers and applause by their fellow students and faculty.
"I have never been prouder," the students' coach, Larry Jones, told a crowd of about 500 at a brief but spirited campus rally honoring the group's return from the three-day competition in Fresno.
The team spent more than 10 months preparing for the event. They rallied to win the county competition in Ventura last fall after Shane Umberger, a fellow team member, died in a car accident.
"They won (the Ventura competition) for Shane," Jones said. "They won this one for themselves."
Competing against much larger schools from around the state, Moorpark scored first place in three contest categories. And one member, Andrew Philip, 17, finished with the second-highest total in the competition. That makes him the second-smartest high school student in California, Jones said.
Andrew said he went into the competition confident that he would place high after the months the team spent preparing.
"I expected to do really well," he said, laden with eight medals for his own and the team's accomplishments. "Before the competition I thought I could get a second. I guess I have a big ego, but when I saw the test I wasn't too sure."
Andrew attributed the team's success to its coach.
"He sacrificed a lot for us," Andrew said.
Andrew said Jones gave up weekends and holidays to help train the team.
"I think I took off Thanksgiving and Christmas and that's about all," said Jones, looking tired but happy. After four years of coaching the team and flush from its recent showing, Jones said he is going to stop coaching to spend more time with his family.
"I need a break," said the social studies teacher.
During the contest at Cal State Fresno, the team competed against 400 other students from 42 schools. Even when they arrived at the competition Wednesday, the students continued to cram for the tests late into the night, Jones said.
"When most of the other students were out swimming in the pool, playing video games or eating frozen yogurt, these guys were studying," Jones said.
Each team was awarded points from every event in which one of its members placed. Of a possible score of 60 points, Moorpark won 53. The top three finishers, in order, were Los Angeles' Marshall High, West High in Torrance and Laguna Hills High in Orange County.
The Moorpark students brought home 40 medals, with Andrew winning a first in the science competition and scoring second in the social studies and interview segment of the competition. He placed third in the mathematics portion.
Another first-place winner from Moorpark was Karissa Lee, 17, who won top prize in the speech contest.
The third first-place finisher from Moorpark was Dani Rabwin, 18, who topped the interview test.
Kevin McQuilkin, 18, won second place in social studies and third in economics. Bea Tantayanabutr, 17, placed third on the economics test.
Other Moorpark team members were 17-year-olds Cori Folkman, Richard Fields and Juan Gonzalez, who placed fifth in the super quiz competition.
Three students--Andrew, Kevin and Dani--also won a total of $3,800 in scholarships.
The list of schools the students, all seniors, want to attend include Harvard, Stanford, Cornell, Reed, USC, UCLA and Georgetown.