Above, Granada Hills Charter High School, the defending national champion, claimed this year’s Academic Decathlon title for L.A. Unified. (Photos by Ryan Togioka/Beyond the Bell).

Second-place winner Marshall High, top, and third-place finisher Franklin High will join eight other District schools in competing for the state Academic Decathlon title.

Perennial Academic Decathlon powerhouse Granada Hills Charter High School has been crowned – again – as L.A. Unified champion, outscoring 61 other teams to capture its seventh District title in 10 years.

Granada, the defending national Academic Decathlon champion, scored 59,864.7 out of a possible 60,000 points in a contest that this year tested students’ knowledge of World War II. Since 1987, L.A. Unified schools have won 20 state contests and 17 national titles.

The winning team is made up of students Mark Aguila, Jordan Barretto, Sabrina Carlos, Sebastian Gonzalez, Christopher Lo, Kevin Ly, Aishah Mahmud, Melissa Santos and Peter Shin. They are coached by Mathew Arnold, Jonathan Sturtevant and Rachel Phipps.

They will compete next month for the state title, along with the nine other top-scoring high school teams from L.A. Unified: Marshall, Franklin, El Camino Real Charter, Garfield, Grant, Palisades Charter, Van Nuys, Bell and North Hollywood.

“The dedication, spirit and motivation to win is nothing short of admirable for the decathletes of Granada Hills Charter High School,” said School Board Member Scott Schmerelson, whose district includes Granada Hills. “Congratulations to all advancing teams heading to the State competition.”

The winners were announced during a Friday night ceremony at Hollywood High School, where they were cheered by relatives, friends, classmates and supporters. Special recognition went to Anrui Gu from Marshall, who was the top-scoring student in the Honor Division. Alex Munoz from Franklin earned the best score in the Scholastic Division, and Sebastian Gonzalez from Granada Hills won the Varsity Division.

Mathew Arnold of Granada Hills was named Coach of the Year.

Superintendent Michelle King honors retiring Cliff Ker for his 17 years overseeing the District’s Academic Decathlon program.

The ceremony also included a special honor for Cliff Ker, the Academic Decathlon events coordinator, who has overseen the program for the last 17 years. Ker is retiring in June after 40 years with the District.

In presenting Ker with an engraved plaque, Superintendent Michelle King praised his passion, commitment, and great ability that helped to make the Academic Decathlon program an exemplary, life-changing event for students.

“It is the best job I’ve ever had,” said Ker, who has seen District teams capture the national title 12 times during his time supporting the program for the Beyond the Bell Branch. “It’s gratifying to see students develop confidence and an ability to learn anything.”

Ker has a message for students who don’t they can handle the academic rigor of a Academic Decathlon season. He maintains, “Yes, you can. Try it. Put in the time and you can do it.”