El Camino Real Charter High wins national 2014 Academic Decathlon

Neelem Sheikh, left, Jose Apolaya, Melissa Cheng and Rohan Boone, seen after winning the state's 2014 Academic Decathlon in March, helped the El Camino Real Charter High School team beat 52 others to win the national title.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

El Camino Real Charter High School claimed the national 2014 Academic Decathlon title Saturday, marking the seventh time the Woodland Hills school has won the honor.

The school earned 52,601.1 points out of a possible 60,000, beating 52 other teams for the title. Granada Hills Charter High School finished second, about 200 points behind El Camino, a difference of about 10 questions.

El Camino also narrowly edged Granada Hills in the California competition in March. The title is L.A. Unified’s 15th national championship. California schools have now won the last dozen U.S. titles and 16 of the last 19.

“The decathlon demands an incredible commitment by the students, coaches and their families, and I congratulate them all on this record-setting achievement,” said Los Angeles Board of Education member Tamar Galatzan.


The Academic Decathlon pitted nine-member teams against one another in 10 subjects, including math, science and literature. They also participated in a Super Quiz, a relay in which pupils have several seconds to answer multiple-choice questions, although those points did not count toward the team’s overall score at the national level. Each team was made up of students with varying grade point averages.

This year’s study topic was World War I. The two-day competition took place in Honolulu, with nearly 470 students participating.

El Camino’s team of Justin Chau, Neelem Sheikh, Thasneem Syed, Melissa Cheng, Sandra Vadhin, Eric Yun, Jose Apolaya, Rohan Boone and Brandon Slater spent months preparing for the event.

“The team’s commitment to excel academically and ultimately achieve such a noteworthy goal is to be commended,” said Michelle King, the district’s deputy superintendent of school operations.

El Camino last won a national championship four years ago. The school has also won 10 state titles since 1991.

Granada Hills was the three-time defending national champion and had hoped to extend its reign. Matthew Arnold, the school’s head Academic Decathlon coach, said it was “bittersweet” to finish second. “The kids did everything they could to win and didn’t leave anything on the table,” he said. “I’m proud of the grace they showed. The lessons of decathlon go beyond the score.”