By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | Los Angeles Daily news
El Camino High School accepts the award for its second-place finish during the LAUSD Academic Decathlon awards ceremony at Hollywood High School on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer)
12 Feb 2009 -- Three San Fernando Valley schools are heading to the state finals of the Academic Decathlon after finishing among the top nine in Los Angeles Unified's contest, district officials announced Thursday night.
El Camino Real, Granada Hills Charter and Francis Polytechnic high schools were among the finalists out of 64 schools that competed in the two-day brain battle.
At a packed awards ceremony at Hollywood High School Thursday night, hundreds of students from all of the district's competing schools got a chance to celebrate their team scores as well as honors given to individual students.
"I feel fantastic," said Daniel de Haas, 17, a senior at El Camino in Woodland Hills who won an award for individual performance.
Granada Hills High School's team has its photo taken after being named the third-place squad during the LAUSD Academic Decathlon awards ceremony at Hollywood High School on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer)
"It's a relief to see all the hours of studying pay off."
Marshall High School took top honors in the district-level decathlon, earning 48,656 points out of a possible 60,000 - the top score this year of any decathlon team in the country in regional contest results. Team members jumped up and down and even began crying when the results were announced.
El Camino, a five-time national champion, finished a close second with 48,395 points, followed by Granada Hills Charter at third. Poly of Sun Valley took the ninth and final spot.
"We're very proud of second place, but we're looking forward to state," said El Camino coach John Dalsass. "We still have a long road to go."
Teens were quizzed on 10 subjects, all tied to this year's theme of the French Revolution, and were also scored on interviews, speeches and essays.
This year's finalists will aim to maintain LAUSD's track record of excellence at the decathlon, a reputation that was first earned in 1987 when Marshall won a national title.
Since then, LAUSD teams have won 15 state contests and 10 national titles.
Last year LAUSD's dynasty was threatened when the decathlon program was almost canceled because of district budget cuts.
"I'm just so happy that we found the sponsors and we were able to get creative and keep this going," said school board member Yolie Flores.
"These students represent the best in L.A. Unified and speak to what happens when you invest in kids and give them what they need to shine and succeed."
LAUSD decathlon coordinator Cliff Ker said the team effort to keep the scholastic duel alive paid off.
"It was a rough year ... but we all worked together, from the superintendent to students, schools and coaches, ... and we ended up with a really great year," Ker said.
LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines congratulated the winners and all of the schools that competed, acknowledging the difficulty of the preparations.
"Having heard the questions on the French Revolution last week during the Super Quiz, I know that this competition wasn't easy," Cortines said. "I applaud you all for your energy, enthusiasm and commitment to learning."
This year, seasoned veterans will be joined by newcomers that have never advanced to the state finals, including Hamilton and Franklin high schools, coming in seventh and eighth places, respectively.
The trip to Sacramento on March 12-15 will also be a first for Poly.
On Thursday night, Poly's decathlon coach Brian Block, who also received a Coach of the Year award, couldn't control his emotions as he jumped up and down and chest-bumped with his students.
Block said he'd prepared for the worst - not making it to the state contest.
But the coach had never doubted that his "decathletes" would go all the way.
"I had already told my principal what we needed if we made it to state," Block said.
Block has run a tight schedule with his students, who have been practicing between 6 to 8 hours a day for the past 10 months. He warned them that after a brief celebration, they'll be back to work today - and they should expect an even tougher schedule.
"I am going to work them hard ... now that we made it, we are going to take it to next level," Block said.
Los Angeles County also announced the winner of the county-level contest, West High School of Torrance, which scored 43,999 points. LAUSD's contest is held separately from the county.
Other county qualifiers included Keppel High School of Alhambra, Torrance High, El Rancho High School of Pico Rivera, Beverly Hills, Redondo Union and San Marino.
The winner of the state competition will advance to the U.S. Academic Decathlon on April 21-24 in Omaha, Neb.