By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News
2/11/2010 -- Francis Polytechnic High School sophomore Cathy Capalla has been having nightmares over the past four nights - and that's when she's been able to sleep.
"Oh my God ... I've been uneasy ... anxious ... sometimes I think I'm going to hyperventilate," said Capalla, 16.
The teen and her classmates at the Sun Valley campus were among hundreds of kids who duked it out last week during the final leg of Los Angeles Unified's 29th annual Academic Decathlon. Tonight at a Hollywood High ceremony, she'll be among hundreds of local students, parents and coaches who will learn whether months of late-night cram sessions paid off.
Final results of LAUSD's Academic Decathlon will bring some relief to anxious students who have been obsessing over how they performed in a two-week competition that ended Saturday.
The decathlon quizzes teen scholars on 10 subjects tied to a single topic, which is the French Revolution this year. It also scores them on interviews, speeches and essays.
"I think I'm going to cry (if I win)" Capalla said.
The top-scoring LAUSD school is guaranteed a spot at California's Decathlon from March 12-15. Traditionally, LAUSD sends its top six to eight teams to the state competition, partially because so many local teams score so well in the annual contest.
Of course, if a team learns that it's moving on to state, another month of cramming will begin as schools strive to protect LAUSD's strong reputation.
Since 1987, an LAUSD team has won 15 state contests and 10 national titles.
If Capalla and her teammates learn their scores qualify them for the state competition, it will be the first time in Polytechnic's history.
Still, the school has a long way to go before matching San Fernando Valley Academic Decathlon powerhouses El Camino Real High, which has won five national titles, and Taft High, which has won three.
Brian Block, Poly's coach, said coming in as an underdog and getting a shot at moving on is exciting - but seeing the individual growth of students is just as thrilling.
"It's nice to win as a team and it's great for the school, but when you're able to look at an individual and know you had a huge impact on their life ... well that's what it's all about for a teacher," Block said.
This year Polytechnic wasn't the only local school with a surprisingly good finish. San Fernando High School also had its highest score ever in the Decathlon's "Super Quiz" portion of the contest, which is a good indicator of how well a team did overall.
For 17-year-old San Fernando junior Candy Macias, competing wasn't easy.
"There were times I felt like I didn't want to do it anymore," Macias said.
"But in the end I'm glad I did it ... win or lose."
Cliff Kerr, LAUSD's Academic Decathlon coordinator, said this year's "decathletes" could collectively be some of the best he's ever seen in the 10 years he's handled the contest.
During this tough budget environment at the district, when morale among many teachers and officials is low, the academic contest gives many people something to be proud of, Kerr said.
"I think everyone - parent or not - should watch at least one decathlon, or attend one awards ceremony," Kerr said.
"It restores your faith in our future generations. We have brilliant, hardworking kids that will take care of the world."