Dozens of students at El Camino Real High School started the party without the guests of honor Thursday.
They sang Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" with the school band, while waiting more than 20 minutes for the academic decathlon team to emerge from their classroom.
Then when the eight members of their "aca deca" team came through the front doors, the crowd cheered.
The team was on its way to defend its state championship title against some 50 other squads in the Academic Decathlon this weekend at Cal Poly Pomona.
Several students said they were proud of their winning team and wanted to show their support.
"Usually athletics is rewarded at this school, but in this case, academics is rewarded also," said Tara Paravar, 17.
The team took the accolades in stride, joking with each other as they waited for their bus, and accepting hugs and words of encouragement from their schoolmates.
At a citywide competition last month, El Camino won the right to represent the Los Angeles Unified School District in the championship for the third consecutive year.
But the students and their coaches would not predict they will take the top prize again.
"I'm optimistic, but I don't want to be too optimistic until we win," said Nancy Fu, 17, the only junior on the team.
"You never know what's out there," said coach Mark Johnson. "But this is by far the hardest-working team I've had, the easiest to get along with. They really wanted to study."
The other members of the team are seniors Taimur Baig, Michael Beatty, Steve Chae, Bruce Ngo, Elana Pelman, Carina Yuen and Adi Zarchi.
Other Valley schools in the competition this weekend are Alemany High School in Mission Hills, winners of the private school competition, and Burbank High School, second-place finishers in the Los Angeles County competition.