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

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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: http://academicdecathlon.org/scores.htm

Visit http://theplaidpress.com/ to read more stories about Granada Hills Charter High School.