The GHCHS Academic Decathlon team poses with their trophy and medals as the top scoring team with 59,040.3 points.


Granada Hills’ academic decathlon team wins state competition and heads to nationals

Photos courtesy of Nicholas Weber. On March 22, Granada Hills Charter High School’s Academic Decathlon team won the 36th Annual California Academic Decathlon State Competition in Sacramento with a score of 59, 040.3 points. Gaining the state title, the team will now go on to represent California in the National Competition. Granada beat rival El…
<a href="" target="_self">Tessa Weinberg</a>

Tessa Weinberg

March 30, 2015

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Photos courtesy of Nicholas Weber.

On March 22, Granada Hills Charter High School’s Academic Decathlon team won the 36th Annual California Academic Decathlon State Competition in Sacramento with a score of 59, 040.3 points. Gaining the state title, the team will now go on to represent California in the National Competition.

Granada beat rival El Camino Real High School who placed second with a score of 58, 371.2 points. After losing their three-peat national champion title last year to El Camino, Granada is on their way to regaining it as they are the only school from California in Division I who will be attending theNational Competition in five weeks.

Honors team member and senior Fernando Sanchez had the top score in the entire state competition with 9,449.1 points, followed by Honors teammate and senior Irene Lee’s score of 9,387.4 points.  Lee also tied the all-time highest score for an individual in Academic Decathlon history, right down to the decimal point at the Los Angeles City Competition in February with 9,461.4 points.

At the Scholastic level, senior Jasmin Kim placed second with 8,822.7 points and on the Varsity level, junior Tanthai Pongstien had the top score at 8,949.9 points. Junior Jorge Zepeda placed second on Varsity with 8,831.5 points. It was Sanchez, Pongstien and Zepeda’s first year on the school’s Acadeca team, and their hard effort paid off with their individual titles.

Granada had members in the top three individuals for every category in the competition: art, economics, language and literature, math, music, science, and social science. In the speech, interview, and essay portions a member from Granada placed in the top three individuals as well.

It was a breakthrough year for Granada’s Acadeca team as they succeeded despite changes in the rulebook of the competition. The past two years, the top two teams from each state were allowed to progress to the national championships. However, this year the new rule was removed, and like in the past, only the State Champion from each state will move onto the National competition.

This tweak in the rulebook presented a challenge for Granada, as their well-known rivals for city, state, and nationals, El Camino Real, were their biggest competitors that had the chance to win state and knock Granada from the running for the national competition.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to us and El Camino, and it’ll be like a heavyweight fight for first place,” said Granada Acadeca coach Matthew Arnold.

Granada pulled through and won that fight by 669.1 points. While Granada will now compete in the National Championships in Garden Grove, California from April 16th – 18th, El Camino Real will be eligible to participate in a separate online national event.

Looking now towards nationals, Granada’s place at the National Championships looks strong. Their biggest competitors at nationals are usually schools from Texas, such as Pearland High School, but Granada is looking to dominate the competition as a California school has held the national title for the past 12 years. Granada’s own history of national titles and record of the highest team score at 54,081 points in 2012 proves their reputation of success.

In preparation for the state competition, Granada focused heavily on honing their essay writing, and speech and interview skills. The margin for error at state was much smaller, and they knew their skills had to be even better to match. Sacrificing their weekends and free time to study, there’s one place that Granada’s Academic Decathlon team occupies the most to study it up: Room B5. It’s more than just a classroom, it’s the fabled room where Granada’s Academic Decathlon team members go to devote hours of their time studying and honing their skills for the competition that determines the worth of their knowledge.

Studying over 30 hours a week, Granada’s Acadeca members not only have some of the highest GPAs on campus, but the most dedication and an admirable work ethic that others look up to as well.

“I think Academic Decathlon is, at its core, is this test of character and strength,” Arnold said. “I think that over the course of the year as a team comes together, they’re really tested in a variety of ways. Not just in terms of the actual pen and paper tests that they have to take, but in terms of their commitment to each other, their commitment to keep improving, their commitment to find out what their weaknesses are and work to improve them.”

Watch the video to hear study tips from the kids who do it best on campus.

Spending every day of their winter break, except Christmas and New Year’s Day, and at school until 8 P.M. during the school year, the amount of preparation Granada puts in is reflected in their multiple national titles, and this year’s state win.

“I think it was sort of like an affirmation of where we stood within the whole competition, and how practice doesn’t lie, and as long as we put the time in, we will get there and we will succeed,” Lee said.

Starting with a week of tryouts at the end of school year where students take multiple exams to assess their skills, hopefuls who wish to join Granada’s Acadeca team then devote their summer and first semester of the school year to studying and learning what being on the Acadeca team takes. The final team of nine students is then decided at the end of the fall semester as the city competition looms ahead.

Being so invested in Decathlon requires countless sacrifices, but the members understand what they are striving towards is bigger than attending the Winter Formal dance or going out with friends on the weekends. Seeing the amount of dedication their teammates put in and wanting their hard work to amount to something, the reward of witnessing their teammates’ and their own personal growth is worth the sacrifice.

“It’s awesome watching the growth of all of our members. When I first met them in the summer, they were all very anxious individuals who had no idea what Decathlon was about, but after about seven months of preparing and really immersing ourselves within this organization, and watching them be confident about themselves and their abilities, it’s really rewarding for me as a returning member who helped lead the team on,” Lee said. “It was a really great experience just watching them be happy with their own performance.”

Now the team will set their sights on nationals where they hope to regain their title of “National Champions.”  Win or lose, their coach who is by their side through the struggles is proud of them nonetheless.

“I’m just really proud of the team.  I’m proud of how hard they’ve worked, but also how they’ve come together as a group,” said Arnold. “To me the comradery they have developed plays a significant part in their success, and I couldn’t be prouder of how they’ve done.  It’s pretty amazing.”

—-Tessa Weinberg

View the results from the 36th Annual California Academic Decathlon State Competition at:

Visit to read more stories about Granada Hills Charter High School.

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