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El Camino Real Places 2nd in State

TIMES STAFF WRITER

El Camino Real High School, which won the national decathlon last year and the state championship the past four years, lost its state title Sunday at the California Academic Decathlon to rival Moorpark High School in Ventura County.

Not only did Moorpark push the Woodland Hills school into second place, but it beat five other teams from the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has a 20-year history of dominating decathlons.

Moorpark will represent California in the national decathlon next month at Cal State Fullerton.

Fifty schools competed in the two-day event, which tested students’ knowledge in art, literature, math, music, social sciences and economics, plus essay writing, public speaking and interviewing.

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At an awards ceremony Sunday at University of the Pacific, decathlon officials announced that Moorpark scored a total of 49,391 points out of a possible 60,000. El Camino earned 48,527 and Laguna Hills High in Orange County took third with 48,431 points.

Three other Los Angeles Unified schools scored in the top 10--with Belmont High placing seventh, Garfield eighth and Los Angeles High in the No. 10 spot. The other top teams were Palos Verdes Peninsula in Rolling Hills Estates, Alemany in Mission Hills, Edison in Fresno and St. Francis in La Canada Flintridge.

“I’m happy for Moorpark,” El Camino’s Lisa Concoff said after the winner was announced. “They’re our friends, but it’s also kind of disappointing because we worked so hard. We had no life. I liked not having a life.”

“My stomach just dropped,” said Moorpark team captain Nick Lange, who looked shellshocked as the media circled around him, flashing cameras and bombarding him with questions. “This is madness, one of the most nerve-racking experiences . . . but a good experience.”

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Nerve-racking indeed.

Moorpark and El Camino were the two favored teams and during the Sunday morning ceremony, in which decathlon officials awarded individual students medals and a total of $27,000 in scholarships, it became clear that the schools were close in their scores.

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In the stands at the university’s Alex Spanos Center, hundreds of parents, teachers and administrators tallied points on scorecards, bit their nails and whispered to one another, trying to guess which team would win the state title.

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Members of the two teams, seated near each other at the awards ceremony, nervously exchanged smiles while also keeping score.

In the long minutes after officials announced Laguna Hill’s third-place finish, members of both teams shut their eyes, bowed their heads, clenched their fists and waited.

The results made both teams cry.

“I’m so happy, I don’t want to cry,” Moorpark’s co-coach Larry Jones said, hugging teary-eyed team members and their parents, who had gathered around the team’s 4-foot gold trophy.

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“I’m happy for Moorpark,” Mark Johnson, a coach for El Camino, said as he consoled and congratulated several sobbing students and held back his own tears. “I told them from Day 1 that this would be the greatest slug-out of all time, and I’m both happy and sad.”

Johnson said he’s proud of his team.

Senior Nancy Fu received a standing ovation for being named the top-scoring student in the honors division, an accolade she achieved at last year’s state and past two city decathlons. At the nationals, she earned the second-highest score.

“Nancy! Nancy! Nancy!” students chanted, pumping their fists and clapping.

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“I received a standing ovation?” she asked afterward. “Cool. I guess I was too blinded and shocked to notice.”

The awards ceremony followed two days of intensive test-taking and controversy over inaccurate questions.

On Sunday, decathlon officials announced that a total of four questions were disqualified because of erroneous information.

Officials invalidated two questions from the multiple-choice social studies test Friday.

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Judy Combs, executive director of the California Academic Decathlon, said Sunday that officials also nullified two questions from the oral portion of the Super Quiz, a popular game show-style test. She said the Super Quiz had problems with errors as well as problems with students mistakenly previewing questions before their competitors.

None of the invalidated questions affected overall scores, Combs said.

“I don’t remember the specific questions, but they were inappropriate, so they were thrown out” by the U. S. Academic Decathlon, which oversees the competitions, Combs said. “It’s the most annoying thing.”

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Combs said decathlon officials were busy and strapped, but have hired two people in the past three months to check tests more thoroughly.

“We absolutely do not want this happening again.”

Students and coaches, including those from Moorpark and El Camino, criticized the inaccuracies and sloppiness Sunday.

Despite Moorpark’s win, Jones said it is one of the reasons why he intends, after seven years, to resign as one of his school’s two decathlon coaches.

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“I find it all very frustrating,” he said.

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El Camino team member Kamil Nagji said the decathlon has a lot of errors in its tests and study guides, and that makes him feel disillusioned.

“It’s not about studying subjects to learn; it’s about guessing what answers the U. S. Academic Decathlon thinks are right,” Kamil said. “We work very hard and it’s frustrating.”

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But after the awards ceremony, Kamil and his teammates said they didn’t want to think about such things. They just wanted to rest.

“Oh well,” Kamil said, shrugging. “So we didn’t win. At least now I’ll have more time to go out on dates.”


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