Granada Hills (again) wins Academic Decathlon
By Harrison Sheppard, Staff Writer | LA Daily News | http://bit.ly/IJs034
Granada Hills Charter High School won the national Academic Decathlon in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Saturday, April 28, 2012. It is their second consecutive national championship. (Cliff Ker)
28/2012 03:46:45 PM PDT :: Granada Hills Charter High School has repeated as champion of the national Academic Decathlon, scoring the highest point tally in the competition's history.
The reigning champ beat out teams from 30 other states and one from London in the Albuquerque, N.M. finals.
"This is phenomenal," Los Angeles Unified's Acadeca coordinator Cliff Ker said. "This is by far the highest score any team has ever gotten in the history of Academic Decathlon."
That score - 54,081 points out of a possible 60,000 - broke the previous record of 53,119 set by Moorpark High School in 2008.
The win culminates a long season of hard work by the team members, including up to 12 hours a day of studying and skipping winter and spring vacations.
"It's almost like sweatshop labor," joked team member Jimmy Wu, who scored 9,182 points, a record for a varsity-level competitor. "Twelve hours a day of studying. It's ridiculous. I don't even know how I did it."
"It was totally worth it," the 17-year-old senior from Northridge added. "I've grown so much. ... I feel like the 12 hours a day of sweatshop labor really paid off."
Team member Sean Wejebe, who earned the competition's highest individual score with 9,441 points, credited the win to strong teamwork and a spirit of solidarity.
"We all had our moments of doubt and `Is it really worth it?"' said the 17-year-old senior from Canoga Park.
"But as a team, we managed to pull together.
Whenever someone was feeling unmotivated or unsure of what they were doing, as a team we would help each other out through this."
Spencer Wolf, one of three Granada Hills co-coaches, said team members were confident entering the competition because throughout this year their scores in the earlier rounds were far above their closest rivals.
"We've been dominant the entire year," Wolf said. "So we shifted our focus to setting personal goals for the kids and performing as well as possible. Somewhere along the line we realized we had a chance to break the all-time record so we used that to motivate the kids."
The win also boosts LAUSD's program at a critical time. The district has been the most successful in the national program's history, with 13 champions since 1982.
But as LAUSD struggles with a fiscal crisis, it is proposing to gut the program's budget. Ker has been scrambling to raise private donations to keep the program going.
"I'm hoping that the budget picture for LAUSD will crystallize or improve over what it's been." Ker said. "But nobody really knows. So I'm keeping my fingers crossed."
"As successful as our kids have been, and for future generations, we have to keep it going."
LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, who attended the Super Quiz portion of the competition, offered his praise to the school.
"Congratulations to Granada Hills Charter High School's academic decathlon team and coaches on capturing the national title," Deasy said in a written statement. "Their incredible commitment, discipline, and hard work have resulted in another decathlon win for LAUSD."
Granada Hills also won the 2011 competition in Charlotte, N.C., but its team members were all new this year.
The Academic Decathlon competition involves a series of intellectual contests in 10 categories: art, economics, essay, interview, language and literature, mathematics, music, science, social science and speech. The theme of the 2012 competition was "The Age of Empire."
Teams compete at the district and state level before moving on to nationals.
Students on the Granada Hills team are: Lev Tauz, Sean Wejebe, Hamidah Mahmud, Christian Koguchi, Priscilla Liu, Kimberly Ly, Jimmy Wu, Stella Lee, and Julia Wall. The team was coached by Matt Arnold, Nick Weber and Spencer Wolf.
The school's team members also dominated the individual portion of the competition, with seven students among the top nine finishers. Four of them broke the 9,000 point barrier, a rare feat in Acadeca: Sean Wejebe (9,441); Lev Tauz (9,430); Hamidah Mahmud (9,041); Jimmy Wu (9,182).
The school is planning a rally for the national champions Monday morning.
Granada Hills wins Academic Decathlon with record-breaking score
It is the second straight national victory for the charter high school. Teams and coaches from other states view the students with awe, clearly impressed at their prowess.
By Rick Rojas, Los Angeles Times | http://lat.ms/IwTueG
Granada Hills Charter High School's Kimberly Ly is hugged by her mother, Tsao, after the team victory in the National Academic Decathlon in Albuquerque. (Eric Draper, For The Times / April 29, 2012)
Academic Decathlon pushes students outside their comfort zones
Photos: 2012 National Academic Decathlon in Albuquerque
For Academic Decathlon team, hard work and adrenaline rushes
April 28, 2012, 7:14 p.m. – ALBUQUERQUE :: In the nine months since the Granada Hills Charter High School Academic Decathlon team began studying for the competition, it's racked up an impressive list of accolades.
The group took home victories locally, beating out all other teams in the Los Angeles Unified School District — and statewide, besting teams from across California.
On Saturday, for the second year in a row, Granada Hills clinched the national title, outperforming 32 other teams. And this year — with a score of 54,081 points — the students claimed the highest score ever at the national competition.
The team's top scorer, Sean Wejebe, crossed the award ceremony stage so many times, it became a running joke with the master of ceremonies, a local broadcaster. ("From Granada Hills Charter High School in California — I'll just let everyone guess: Sean Wejebe!")
Teams and coaches from other states viewed the Granada Hills students with awe, clearly impressed at their prowess.
"This was our end goal, and we did it," said Julia Wall, a senior on the team. Now, they have the "reward for all of our work over the past nine months."
Yet it was clear that there were other victories. Those are not as tangible as the clanking medals around the students' necks and the heavy glass trophy. But they are perhaps even more important: team bonding. Confidence. Endurance. Social skills.
"The nature of the program turns you into a good student, someone who can set goals and accomplish them," said Julia, a C-level, or "varsity," student — who admits she previously wasn't the most studious.
Her parents, who were in Albuquerque for the two-day competition, marvel at her transformation. Her mother said she struggled after changing high schools after 10th grade. She was shy. She had a "competitive spirit," her father said, but she lacked an outlet.
"I'm glad to see her come into her own," said Dan Wall.
Julia and Jimmy Wu both aimed to be the first varsity students to break the 9,000-point barrier in the competition — considered to be quite a feat in an event with 10,000 possible points.
Jimmy pulled it off, scoring 9,182 points. He was stunned. "I didn't think I broke 9,000," he said soon after hearing the news.
"I've always been an underachiever, a C student," he said. "I joined Academic Decathlon to change that."
Their win was the product of an intense process: marathon study sessions, lost weekends and breaks, a constant effort to push themselves further and further. Surviving that — and being successful — has left them with an uncommon bond.
"They were strangers when we started," said senior Lev Tauz. "I didn't know any of them. I didn't grow comfortable with just the [test] subjects, but with the people."
They saw each other more often than they saw their families, and they learned to encourage and rely on each other.
Spencer Wolf, one of the coaches, described his philosophy: "Put them in control, and see what they can do."
"People can do impressive things if they have focus," he said. "So it's about raising the bar."
The team of nine includes Hamidah Mahmud, Christian Koguchi, Priscilla Liu, Kimberly Ly and Stella Lee, in addition to Sean, Julia, Jimmy and Lev. Besides Wolf, the coaches are Matt Arnold and Nick Weber.
Kimberly, who spoke at a small gathering for the winning teams, said she finally found a place where she could be herself. "I was trying to fit in with everyone else," she said. "I was trying to be cool." But she found a group who accepts her for who she is. ("I'm weird," she said.)
Kimberly and Hamidah, both juniors, could have another year to compete, but for everyone else, the decathlon is over. They will return to school with Advanced Placement exams looming and an upcoming prom, but they'll have a gaping hole in their schedule.
"Oh, I'll get to go home when it's still light outside," Julia said.
Saturday's victory could also help win support for the decathlon in L.A.; the Los Angeles Unified School District has threatened to pull funding for the program to help deal with a budget shortfall. (Charter schools like Granada Hills are publicly financed, though they are independently run and have more control over such programs than traditional campuses.)
The district, the nation's second-largest, has been a decathlon powerhouse, winning 13 national titles.
Wolf said the coaches will have to regroup and figure out what their goals for next year could be. They've won nationals, they've broken the record for the highest-scoring team. What could they hope to accomplish next?