El Camino Real Charter High School won the state's 2014 Academic Decathlon in Sacramento over the weekend and a chance to compete for the national title in Honolulu next month, officials announced Sunday.
The Woodland Hills school beat out 64 other teams for the coveted title. Los Angeles Unified School District campuses grabbed the other two top spots, with Granada Hills Charter High, the 2011-13 state and national champion, in second place and John Marshall High School placing third.
El Camino, a six-time national champion, dominated the intense two-day competition, scoring 57,747 out of a possible 65,400 points. Granada Hills finished a close second with 57,214 points and will join El Camino in Hawaii. John Marshall amassed 56,963 points.
This year's competition had 565 students from 65 schools. Nine-member teams — composed of honors, scholastic and varsity students — earned points in subjects such as math, science, art and literature. The decathlon culminated with the Super Quiz, a rapid-fire relay in which students are given seven seconds to answer a series of multiple-choice questions.
"I tell the kids we will swim to the wall, and don't lift your head up until you finish," said Stephanie Franklin, in her sixth year as El Camino's coach. "They've worked so hard.... I'm just overwhelmed."
El Camino's team is Justin Chau, Neelem Sheikh, Thasneem Syed, Melissa Cheng, Sandra Vadhin, Eric Yun, Jose Apolaya, Rohan Boone and Brandon Slater. They spent months preparing and competing for the chance to win the state title.
Their dedication paid off. El Camino tied with John Marshall High in Saturday's Super Quiz, with both teams earning 4,875 points out of a possible 5,400. El Camino teammates Rohan Boone and Brandon Slater took first and second place as the top-scoring varsity students in the overall competition, boosting their team's chance for victory.
Rohan, 17, paused during a phone interview Sunday, admitting he was on the verge of tears. His mother and father were in Sacramento to share his victories.
"I've never felt more elated in my life," he said. "To have that kind of closure, everything I've been working toward for many months, is undescribable." El Camino last won the state and national competition in 2010.
Granada Hills is seeking its fourth back-to-back national title. It could mean a second trophy for two seniors, 17-year-old Kailin Li and 18-year-old Jenny Baek.
"They realize they can keep working, and this is an opportunity most people in decathlon won't have," said Mathew Arnold, Granada's head coach. "I'm really proud of our team."
Despite a third-place finish, Marshall High earned the Large School title. The school will join Moraga's Campolindo High and Fresno's University High in the national online competition in April.
After the weekend's competition, Marshallcoach Larry Welch told his students they should be proud, noting that their overall score is the highest in the school's history.
"This is not a loss for us. We just fell short of a goal," Welch said. "But [now] they are so rich in their abilities to handle pressure and grace under fire."
The only other LAUSD school to place in the top 10 was Franklin High, which finished eighth. Beverly Hills, South Pasadena and Redondo Union, all representing Los Angeles County, also finished in the top 10.
California has won the last 11 national titles and 15 of the last 18. In the 32 years of national competition, the state has placed first or second every year but one.