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West High’s Academics Triumph

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Torrance’s West High School walked away with top honors Friday in the Academic Decathlon for Los Angeles County, the brain-exercising scholarly competition for public schools not in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Adding to West’s big day, a junior from that campus snagged the medal for the highest individual scores.

West, along with second placer, Burbank High School, will advance to the state competition in March, when a winner will be selected to advance to the national finals. Beverly Hills High School came in third place countywide. (The L.A. district and private schools have their own contests.)

Raylene Yung, a junior from West High, was the competition’s highest scoring student. Out of a possible 10,000 points, she earned 8,632. Last year, she was the second-highest scoring student in the county contest.

After her school took the big trophy at a ceremony at a Montebello golf club’s banquet hall, 16-year-old Yung said, “It’s just amazing. Everyone’s absolutely thrilled. I don’t think anyone expected it.”

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Last year, West High came in in second place, bested by Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, which went on to third place statewide. Palos Verdes ranked eighth in the county on Friday.

Decathlete “training” can begin as early as the previous May for some teams. Zohreen Adanjee, a senior from West High, said her team studied together before and after school, at lunch and a couple of nights a week.

But as they sift through physics, fine arts and music lessons, team members gain more than mere knowledge: They make close friendships.

“We didn’t just read or study, we bonded ... ,” she said. “Our team was really motivated. We wanted to do really well.”

The coordinator of the county’s decathlon said too many high school students don’t get enough praise for the effort they put into their academics. The county Academic Decathlon offers about 500 students recognition that athletes usually receive, Chris Chialtas said.

“We’re pushing gray matter in this particular olympics of ours,” he said of the competition. It includes 10 events, including speech, interview, language arts, mathematics and the public Super Quiz, sort of a group game of Jeopardy.

The L.A. district winner this year will be announced at an awards banquet Feb. 20. Last year’s champion, El Camino High School of Woodland Hills, won the national competition.

Each Academic Decathlon team is made up of three A, B and C students--so even students who don’t do particularly well in school but are smart and hard-working are given the chance to shine, coaches say.

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“Students who don’t get Bs or A’s still have the opportunity to compete and show their potential as well,” said Maisha Lake, 29, the decathlon coach for Inglewood High School.

“Aca Dec has been like a second family for me,” said Ian Adams, a three-year team member from Alhambra High School. “We’ve gotten to know each other through the more than 500 hours we’ve put in.”

Teammates can provide much needed support and motivation, said Micah Rice, a senior at Torrance High School who scored a perfect 1000 out of 1000 in the interview competition.

“My teammates were great. I have to give them props. They served as an example through their actions,” he said.

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