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EL CAMINO SCHOLARS 2ND IN DECATHLON : RECORD-SETTING TEXAS KEEPS ACADEMIC TITLE OUT OF VALLEY TEAM'S REACH.

Byline: Mary F. Pols Daily News Staff Writer

El Camino Real High School took second place in the U.S. Academic Decathlon on Saturday, losing out to an all-boy team from Texas that stunned organizers and participants with a record-shattering performance.

This is the second year in a row that the Woodland Hills-based school will tote a second-place trophy home to California while a Texas team returns victorious to the Lone Star State.

But whereas last year was a heart-breaking experience, with El Camino only 285 points out of a possible 60,000 shy of winning, the 1997 team remained dry-eyed.

They could only shake their heads in amazement over the prowess of their counterparts from James E. Taylor High School of Katy, Texas.

The Taylor team scored 52,260 points, destroying the previous U.S. Academic Decathlon record by more than 2,000 points. El Camino had 49,520 points, while Illinois finished third with a score of 47,970 points.

``They deserve it,'' said El Camino junior Steve Chae, as he stepped up to shake the hands of the Texas team members.

Not long into the three-hour award ceremony, it became obvious that the Texas team was just about invincible. Before the overall winners were announced, individual medals were handed out in 10 subjects, including economics, math, fine arts, science, literature and social science. Since teams are composed of students from three categories - ``varsity'' students who have C averages, ``scholastics'' with B averages and ``honors'' with A averages - there were at least nine medals awarded in each subject area.

Over and over, the names of players from Taylor were called up to receive gold, silver and bronze medals. By the time the announcer reached the science category - which the Texas team swept for gold medals in all three academic divisions - faces at the El Camino table were glum.

``The whole Texas team is going up,'' senior Michal Engleman said despairingly to co-coach Dave Roberson.

``It's OK,'' Roberson assured her.

The medal-heavy Texans began emitting a steady clanking noise each time they made the journey from their table at the back of the room to the podium to pick up another award. Soon they were holding the medals against their chests, as if to save the rest of the teams the suffering of having to listen to the clink, clink, clink of their stunning success.

``I think Texas wrote the test,'' hissed El Camino senior Mike Montgomery.

The rivalry between Texas and California teams is longstanding. Judy Combs, executive director of the California Academic Decathlon, said that teams from Texas or California have won all but one decathlon in the national competition's 16-year history.

``They are always our nemesis,'' Combs said.

But even though the Taylor team dominated the competition with 49 individual medals, El Camino also picked up its fair share, taking home 34 medals.

Senior Robert Magee was a standout, scoring the highest point total for the El Camino team and scooping up a $2,000 college scholarship. Overall, he had the fifth-highest score nationally. He is hoping that his stellar decathlon performance will persuade the same UCLA officials who rejected him for fall admissions to admit him next spring.

He's planning on sitting down to write them a letter as soon as he gets home. After that, he's going to get back to his life.

``I'm going to hang out with my girlfriend and friends that I haven't seen in 10 months,'' he said.

Robert said he was nervous at the start of the competition, although it certainly wasn't obvious. He and the two other Varsity players on the El Camino team, Mike and senior Roger Rees - who have grown inseparable this year - were all clad in black suits, black ties and black shirts, trying to their utmost to look cool.

``I was worried going in,'' Robert said. ``I knew the Texas team was really strong. But I just resolved to do the best I could.''

Steve Chae received a silver medal in fine arts, and Dawn Robinson picked up a silver in language and literature. Mike won copper medals in speech, science and language, and literature, a silver in fine arts, a bronze in social science and a silver in math.

Adi Zarchi won a silver in language and literature and in fine arts, a brass in science and a bronze in economics.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

Photo: Tamara Miller, left, and Jackie Moses cheer El Camino High School's second-place finish Saturday in the U.S. Academic Decathlon.

Nick Adams/St. George Spectrum
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 20, 1997
Words:757
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