Granada Hills Charter High won the L.A. Unified Academic Decathlon and will advance to the state finals.
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Granada Hills Charter High won the L.A. Unified Academic Decathlon and will advance to the state finals.

Defending national champion Granada Hills Charter High has been crowned L.A. Unified’s Academic Decathlon champion and will compete, along with a dozen other District schools, for the state title next month.

With 55,176 points out of a possible 60,000, Granada captured the District title for the sixth time. The Highlanders claimed the L.A. Unified title in 2015, and then went on to win the state and national contests.

L.A. Unified will send 13 teams to the state decathlon in Sacramento, which will be held March 17-20. Those schools, in ranking order, are Marshall, Franklin, El Camino Real Charter, Garfield, Bell, Van Nuys, Grant, Narbonne, Hamilton, North Hollywood and first-timers Cleveland Charter and Lincoln.

Marshall High, which has twice won the national title, took second place, and Larry Welch was named Coach of the Year.
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Marshall High, which has twice won the national title, took second place, and Larry Welch was named Coach of the Year.

“Heartfelt congratulations to the Granada Hills High School team for their stellar performance,” said Board Member Scott Schmerelson, who represents the school. “It was most gratifying to witness all of our students, regardless of the school model, competing together in this epic academic pursuit. Every student was excited, competitive and determined to do their best.”

The results were announced Friday night during a ceremony at Hollywood High, where about 500 decathletes from 58 schools celebrated their achievements with cheering relatives, friends, teachers and principals.

Joshua Lin from Granada tied the all-time high individual score with 9,641.4.4 points. His teammates are Mark Aguila, Julian Duran, Isha Gupta, Christopher Lo, Aishah Mahmud, Melissa Santos, Mayeena Ulkarim and Jorge Zepeda.

Larry Welch from Marshall and Kevin Murchie from Garfield shared the honor of Coach of the Year.

Third-place winner Franklin High will join a dozen other L.A. Unified schools at the state competition in Sacramento.
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Third-place winner Franklin High will join a dozen other L.A. Unified schools at the state competition in Sacramento.

“We are so proud of each and every one of you for your sacrifice, diligence and hard work,” said Superintendent Michelle King. “L.A. Unified has a long and storied history of success. For the teams heading to the state decathlon, they will undeniably represent the best of the best.”

Since the decathlon was created in 1987, L.A. Unified has won 20 state contests and 16 national titles – the most of any district in the U.S. Granada Hills holds four of the U.S. championships and El Camino Real, a record six titles.

“There are not enough superlatives to describe the brilliance, efforts, and teamwork of the decathletes and coaches from L.A. Unified,” said Cliff Ker, the District’s veteran decathlon coordinator. “Their quest for academic excellence becomes more amazing each year.  I am so proud of all of them.”

Students spend all year studying for the competition, in which teams test their intellectual skills against those from other schools in 10 categories: art, economics, essay, interview, literature, math, music, science, social science and speech. They also compete in the oral Super Quiz, which Granada Hills won this year with a perfect score. The academic categories are centered on a single them, which this year is India.

Medals and trophies represent the hard work and achievements of the student decathletes and their coaches.
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Medals and trophies represent the hard work and achievements of the student decathletes and their coaches.

Each school team fields nine students—three students with a grade-point average of 2.99 below; three with a GPA of 3-3.75; and three with a GAP of 3.75 or higher.

Countywide decathlons are held across California, with the winners competing for the state title. Because of its size, L.A. Unified has its own event.

Friday’s ceremony marked only a short break for the teams that qualified for the state contest. They’re resuming their daily cramming sessions, which come on top of their regular homework.

“Tonight is just one part of our year,” said Matt Arnold, who coaches the team along with Jon Sturtevant and Rachel Phipps. “Tonight is  great recognition of the work we’ve done so far, but not the end point.”

While the focus of the competition is academic knowledge, students and coaches say the opportunities to make new friends and develop new skills are the most important elements of the program.

“They’re more responsible, they’re more rounded human beings, they are better human being,” said Franklin Coach Sam Kullens. … That’s really what this program, at least our Franklin program is all about. And I would hope that’s what Academic Decathlon is all about.”