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El Camino, L.A. Tie for 1st in Super Quiz : Education: Mid-City school’s showing in key Academic Decathlon event is a surprise. Valley campus was favored.

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The academic decathlon teams of Los Angeles and El Camino Real high schools have tied for first place in the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Super Quiz, officials announced Monday.

The Super Quiz is the key event in the district’s 10-event Academic Decathlon. Results in the rest of the events and the overall decathlon winner will be announced Nov. 28 at an awards banquet. The winner will compete in a statewide decathlon.

El Camino, a Woodland Hills campus that has twice won the L.A. Unified decathlon, was the favorite in Saturday’s Super Quiz competition at Cal State Dominguez Hills in Carson.

The decathletes of El Camino Real High rejoiced at the news that they had tied for first. “I screamed when I found out,” said Arabella David, 17. “The dean heard me as he passed by and asked, ‘What’s wrong?’ ”

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The strong showing by L.A. High--a Mid-City campus not usually mentioned with the school district’s academically prestigious high schools--was a surprise.

“No one expected us to win,” said Jim Hatem, the school’s decathlon coach. “We’re a Mid-City school made up of a bunch of immigrants.”

Hatem said only three of the nine members of his team were born in the United States. While boys make up the majority of most decathlon squads, six of L.A. High’s nine members are girls.

Los Angeles High, built in 1873, is the district’s oldest high school. Hatem said it has had a consistently solid decathlon team, placing as high as third in the Super Quiz in previous competitions.

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“We weren’t ‘supposed’ to win,” said Hatem, whose students have dubbed him “the Drill Sergeant” for his relentless teaching style. “They were not expected to do well, and I always throw that in the faces of the kids. Sometimes it works and in this case, it did.”

“Nobody expected us to do anything,” said Luisa Palmero, 17, a team member. “This will show them.”

Despite the team’s shared victory in the Super Quiz, Hatem said he doesn’t think Los Angeles High will win the overall competition.

“Our kids are immigrants and they tend not to do as well in the literature and essay categories,” he said.

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The scores for Saturday’s Super Quiz were not announced until Monday morning because the electronic scoring system had malfunctioned, forcing students to write their answers, making it impossible to immediately determine the winner.

Los Angeles and El Camino both got 83 of a possible 90 points. Marshall High, the defending decathlon champion, placed second with 81 points and Taft was third with 80 points. These technically are still “unofficial” scores, said Ria Parody, district spokeswoman, because there may be challenges to the questions.


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