Granada Hills Charter High School, a perennial powerhouse in academic competitions, continued to build on that legacy Saturday by winning the national 2016 Academic Decathlon for the second year in a row.
The win marks the fifth time in the last six years the San Fernando Valley campus has claimed the national title.
The team of nine students scored 54,195 points out of a possible 60,000 in the rigorous three-day competition, beating 48 other national and international teams.
Highland Park High School in Texas placed second during the competition in Anchorage.
Students were tested in 10 events: art, economics, essay, interview, language and literature, mathematics, music, science, social science and speech. The study topic this year was India.
Granada Hills team members are Mark Aguila, Julian Duran, Isha Gupta, Joshua Lin, Christopher Lo, Aishah Mahmud, Melissa Santos, Mayeena Ulkarim and Jorge Zepeda.
The students were jubilant after the team’s name was announced and also relieved to have continued the school’s winning tradition.
“It’s huge relief,” said Melissa, 17, who was the top scoring student overall. “We were sitting there clasping each others hands because this is legacy for Granada Hills and for California to keep, and we didn’t want the hard work and trust everyone placed in the team to go to waste.”
Christopher said the team was confident going into the competition, but soon realized they were up against other students who were just as prepared.
“We were looking at the Texas school and seeing they had the potential to beat us and that was scary,” the 17-year-old junior said. “Granada Hills being such a competitive and prestigious school put a lot of pressure on us.”
It was Christopher’s first national academic decathlon competition, and the experience of being on the team has somewhat made up for what he admits has been a less-than-stellar academic career thus far. The teams must include A-, B- and C-level students to encourage all participants to excel and push their limits.
“I’ve never seen my family so proud,” Christopher said. “As a C-team member finding a way to redeem myself really has been a way to unlock my family’s true dynamic.”
Finding students like Christopher to compete may be the secret of Granada Hills’ success, said Jon Sturtevant, one of the team’s coaches.
“We’ve been good at finding kids who have an aptitude for really working hard,” Sturtevant said. That includes a willingness to devote 12 hours a day, six days a week to studying and training.
“You just can’t stack the deck with the top kids at school. You have to find kids who have the motivational skills, and that’s where I think we do really well.”
Granada Hills Charter also won first place during Friday’s Super Quiz event, the only portion of the competition open to the public.
Earlier this year Granada Hills Charter won the Los Angeles Unified School District Academic Decathlon and last month California’s Academic Decathlon. LAUSD schools have won 17 national titles.
“I am amazed and in awe of the decathletes’ talent, competitive spirit and enduring drive to succeed and win,” LAUSD board member Scott M. Schmerelson said in a statement. “Congratulations to each of them for their magnificent victory and for representing L.A. Unified.”
The team is scheduled to return to Los Angeles on Sunday morning. The campus will hold a welcome rally at 8 a.m. Monday.