Decathletes get a big brass homecoming

Times Staff Writer

The El Camino Real High School students who won the U.S. Academic Decathlon on Saturday in Honolulu returned Tuesday to Los Angeles International Airport, where they were serenaded in baggage claims by their school’s marching band.

Wearing medals instead of leis, the eight-member team from Woodland Hills was greeted about 4 p.m. by two dozen band members who performed their school’s fight song, then Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”

The decathletes hugged relatives and classmates and grinned shyly before a bank of media cameras and reporters, who variously asked:


Had the national champs spent any time in the island sun during the intense competition?

How about afterward?

Did anyone get sunburned?

Were they proud?

The answers: no, yes, yes and of course.

And what was the best part of the national championship?

“I guess I’d say winning,” answered Sam Farahmand, a junior, who at 16 is the youngest member of the team. “That and the relief that came along with it.”

The students brought home the school’s fifth national title, a record it shares with a Texas team that hasn’t won since 1991.

The competition tested 350 students from around the country on art, economics, math, music, language and social science.

The students, competing as teams, also earned individual points as they were quizzed about this year’s theme: China’s influence on the world.

The Academic Decathlon requires teams to be composed of three students with A grade-point averages, three B students and three whose GPA is C or below.

El Camino was down a student from the usual team of nine but triumphed anyway.

Besides Farahmand, team members are Venus Vakhshori, the highest-scoring student in the contest with 9,177 points out of a possible 10,000; Helen Durand, who also scored more than 9,000 points; Shengya Cao; Jiyoung Kim; Frank Soberanis; Jennifer Yoo and Franklin Yu.


Around her neck, Helen wore eight medals, some of them earned by the team.

“We slept a lot on the plane,” she said as the marching band played, “and I’ll probably go home and sleep some more.”

El Camino Principal Dave Fehte, who was in Hawaii on Saturday to cheer them on, was at the airport terminal to greet the winning team.

“They’ve worked extremely hard,” he said. “From September on, they stayed at school until 6 or 7 every night but had Sundays off. Since January they stayed at school and studied till 10 a lot.... Until Saturday night, they studied so much they might as well have been in the Marriott by LAX.”

El Camino’s win Saturday made this the fourth year in a row that a Woodland Hills high school has taken the national championship. El Camino’s archrival, Taft High, won last year. El Camino took the title in 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2005.

The decathlon win was the 10th by a school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, district spokeswoman Susan Cox said, and the 14th win by a California school since the competition began in 1982.

“We’ll have a pep rally for them at the school Thursday,” said Lissa Gregorio, co-coach of the team. “They’re analogous to the jocks on campus. They get that same respect.”