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Spirited Rally for Academic Champions

Times Staff Writer

With bands playing, cheerleaders waving pompoms and red, white and blue balloons raining from the ceiling, Moorpark High School’s national academic champions returned Monday to a rousing welcome in the school gym.

The nine students who make up the team smiled broadly and waved at friends and family members in the standing-room-only audience.

Principal Anna Merriman said the team’s win Sunday at the U.S. Academic Decathlon in Erie, Pa., brings prestige to the Ventura County school, which already boasts a nationally recognized dance team, drum-line band and cheer squad, as well as 10 National Merit Scholarship winners this year.

“Moorpark High School is a great school made up of talented students supported by a passionate staff and dedicated community members,” Merriman said.

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Moorpark scored 51,423 out of a possible 60,000 points to win the national competition. During the awards ceremony Saturday in Pennsylvania, the Moorpark team received more than 30 medals in subjects that included art, math, social sciences and literature.

Merriman and others noted the dedication of Larry Jones, who will retire this year from coaching after 12 years of inspiring academic decathletes. Under his direction, Moorpark High has won two national championships in five years.

“We’re trying to find a coach,” Merriman said after the rally. “I’m hoping someone on the staff now will step up. It’s a huge time commitment.”

She said the school of 2,200 students may not field a team next year because no one has stepped forward. Many teachers are already overcommitted and could not put in the amount of time it takes to coach, she said.

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But Jones, who will remain at Moorpark High as a world history and Advanced Placement teacher, said he remains hopeful.

“No one is irreplaceable,” Jones said after the rally. “If this were a successful basketball or baseball or football team, there would be someone there to take over.”

He said he will miss the challenge of helping students realize their dreams through hard work. But he admits he is exhausted from the grueling, year-round schedule that had him working an extra 40 hours a week preparing students for the nationals, on top of his regular teaching load.

“I know I will miss seeing how this little thing that I do has such an impact on the community -- and what it means to the community.”

That community was out in force Monday to express admiration for this year’s team -- seniors Lindsay Hebert, Nathaniel Jones, Adam Abed, Paul Ideal, Kevin Randolph, Ashlee Scott and Grant Volk, and juniors Tracy Yagi and Max Geiger.

“It feels really good,” Adam said afterward. “I’m so proud that everyone came out.”

Max, Nathaniel and Ashlee received standing ovations after presenting the speeches that brought them honors during the national championship. Max tackled the colorful history of pirates, Nathaniel talked about how retaining a youthful spark is essential to a happy life, and Ashlee noted the importance of holding on to one’s sense of self.

Student body Vice President Megan Wynigear, who helped organize the rally, said she was touched by the events of the day.

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“When Mrs. Merriman was giving her speech, it left tears in my eyes,” the senior said.


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