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Decathlon Champions Rejoice, Eye State Contest

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The intermission will be brief.

Fresh from winning the citywide title, the academic decathlon team at El Camino Real High School basked in the glow of victory Wednesday but understood that the respite will be ended in a few days by the burden of postponed homework, deferred college applications and, of course, another round of intense study for the state contest next spring.

Still, the nine students, all seniors, appreciated the breather.

“You have to give yourself time to forget everything before you start studying again,” explained Dale Shuger, 18.

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That would take a lot of forgetting. Results announced Tuesday night showed the team’s impressive mastery of the knowledge and skills needed in the Nov. 18 contest, which tests contestants in six subjects, plus requiring an essay, a speech, submission to a personal interview and participation in the Super Quiz, a rowdy College Bowl-like event.

With 49,467 points out of 60,000 possible, El Camino Real outscored its nearest competitor, reigning national champion Marshall High School of Los Angeles, by a 2,000-point margin for the school’s third city championship. Next-door rival Taft High School of Woodland Hills came in third.

“There were so many expectations that we could actually win first place,” said Jenny Stefanotty, 17. “We felt that the city competition was our biggest hurdle. Now that we’ve gotten over that hurdle, we feel confident.

“Not cocky,” she added. “Confident.”

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The state tournament is scheduled for March in Fresno (“Fresnowhere,” snickered teammate Arabella David, 17). El Camino Real will represent the Los Angeles Unified School District.

But between now and then lie unfinished--or even unstarted--tasks.

Some of the students are still scrambling to cobble together their University of California applications, due Friday. Most must catch up in classes that took a back seat to decathlon preparations.

“I put all my effort into [the decathlon], and my team members did the same,” said Eldar Brodski, 17, who has two weeks’ worth of homework to make up.

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Brodski called his mother in Israel from a pay phone in the Bonaventure Hotel after the awards banquet. “We won,” he said simply when she answered the phone, 10 time zones away.

In Room B-111 at El Camino Real, the congratulatory calls came in so thick and fast Wednesday that history teacher David Roberson, the team’s coach, took to answering his phone with the greeting: “Grand Central.”

This year is Roberson’s third as the school’s decathlon coach. He inherited the job from former coaches Mark Johnson and Jeff Craig, who together led El Camino Real to the city title in 1992. El Camino Real first won the city crown in 1989.

“My first year was a baptism by fire. . . . It was hell,” Roberson said.

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This year, with the assistance of co-coach Sharon Markenson and three team members who competed last year as well, Roberson felt more assured, and watched his “exceptionally mature” team band together.

“We had to,” said Justin Weaver, 17. “Morale scores points.”


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