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VYING FOR NATIONAL GLORY PRELIMINARY ROUND OF ACADEMIC DECATHLON TESTS BEGIN.

Byline: Lisa M. Sodders Staff Writer

Hundreds of Los Angeles Unified School District high school students spent their Saturday morning taking the first battery of tests for the highly competitive Academic Decathlon.

The seven scrimmage tests, given at six LAUSD high schools around the city, won't count toward any official score and didn't include the three subject areas of speech, interview and essay.

But these scores do help coaches select their final nine-member teams and often give them and their students a better idea at how well they will do in actual competition.

``It's pretty hard,'' admitted Reseda High School team member Tobi Ogbechie, 16, of North Hills. ``It's challenging. We're going to have to study a lot.''

As its name suggests, the Academic Decathlon is made up of 10 events: seven multiple-choice exams in art, economics, language and literature, mathematics, music, science and the Super Quiz, which includes an oral relay as well as a written exam. Students also take an essay exam, participate in an interview and give a speech.

Each team consists of nine students: three honor students, with GPAs of 3.75 to 4.00; three scholastic students, with GPAs of 3.00 to 3.74; and three varsity students, with GPAs of up to 2.99.

Cliff Ker, coordinator for LAUSD's Academic Decathlon program, said he knows of at least 20 LAUSD teams whose coaches believe they have what it takes to go to state competition.

``I thought I would never see competition as we had last year even close to being rivaled, but based on the feedback I'm getting from the coaches and the kids, we're going to surpass what we did last year,'' Ker said.

Taft High School, which took second place in state competition last year and has won national championships in 1989 and 1994, has five of its nine team members returning. This year, team members are determined to win state and go on to nationals.

``For a lot of us, it's what it's going to take to get into the school of our dreams,'' said Taft member Aaron Siani, 16, of Encino, who competed last year and hopes to attend Stanford. ``If what it takes is a national championship, that's what it's going to be.''

The Los Angeles Unified School District has 59 teams competing this year, and has historically done well, with 11 state championships and 6 national titles since 1986.

One small disappointment for LAUSD is that the teams won't be able to test their mettle against Ventura County's Moorpark High School, which won the state competition and then beat 36 other state championship teams to win the national title last year. Since then coach Larry Jones stepped down, no new coach stepped forward, and the school does not have a team this year.

Ventura County has 14 high schools competing, but their scrimmages won't be until Nov. 22, said Phil Gore, director of administrative support services for the Ventura County Superintendent of Schools office. Area private schools are also having their scrimmages Nov. 22.

Los Angeles County is fielding 61 teams this year, said Cristallea Byun, program coordinator. County teams also had their scrimmages Saturday.

This year's decathlon theme is America: the Growth of a Nation. The Super Quiz is on the Lewis and Clark expedition, and students have been reading Willa Cather's novel, ``Death Comes for the Archbishop,'' and studying Native and Early American art, microeconomics, differential calculus, botany and listening to such musical selections as John Philip Sousa's ``Washington Post March,'' and Scott Joplin's ``The Entertainer.''

The winners of regional competitions in February will advance to the state competition March 12-14 in Sacramento. The winner of the state competition will advance to the U.S. Academic Decathlon competition in Boise, Idaho, April 14-17.

Lisa M. Sodders, (818) 713-3663

lisa.sodders(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1) From left, Heather Bandy, a member of Reseda High's Academic Decathlon team who is blind, shares a laugh with team coach Rochelle Kronstadt and co-coach Vicki Arnold during a break after one of the scrimmage tests Saturday.

(2) Local high school students step away from their pencils and test material during a break in the Academic Decathlon scrimmage session held Saturday at Reseda High School.

Tom Mendoza/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Nov 16, 2003
Words:713
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