Judging by their successes in the athletic, drama, robotics programs, among others, the students and teachers at El Camino Real Charter High School have had a lot to celebrate in the 2017-18 academic year.
But no group deserved a party more than the school’s Academic Decathlon team, which wrapped up its eighth national championship (and first since 2014) at the 37th US Academic Decathlon in Frisco, Texas on Saturday, April 21.
ECR, with a total of 54,531.2 points out of a possible 60,000 topped Oakwood High School from Ohio (52,608.3) and Lubbock High School of Texas (51,612.4) for the overall title. In winning its Division I, the Conquistadors outscored Lubbock High and the Whitney M. Young Magnet High School of Illinois (47,806.1).
It was a clean sweep for the Conquistadors team that also won the Los Angeles Unified School District and state academic decathlons. And they did it in dominating fashion, set records for point totals in the state (55,942.4) and national events.
Team coach and ECR instructor Stephanie Franklin termed the students’ accomplishment as “incredible, especially in our climate today.”
“It’s great to see hard work and integrity pay off the way it’s supposed to,” Franklin said. “We always tell our children that if you just stick to the path, keep working and keep grinding, good things will happen for you. But in today’s climate we don’t see a lot of that happening. So for them to reaffirm through their hard work they can get what they deserve has been such a blessing this year.”
The eight-member team of (in alphabetical order) Inesh Ahuja, Matthew Fitzmorris, Briana Lincoln, Nolan Origer, Rachel Markenson, Avery Tamura, Maya Teitz, and Trevor Winnard were saluted at a school pep rally on Monday, April 23.
If anyone could have claimed bragging rights it was Teitz, 18, a senior, who had the highest individual point totals in the three competitions.
But Teitz — who is deciding between UC Santa Barbara and UC Davis for college this fall — was firm that the accomplishment was not about individualism.
“It takes so much work — not just as an individual but as a team.,” she said. “We cannot do as well as we do without everyone committing 100 percent. We’re only as strong as our weakest link. That’s how we were able to succeed. Everybody committed 100 percent and gave their all.
“Even though you compete as an individual, everybody needs somebody to rely on,” Teitz continued. “The reason people are able to do well is because they have a team behind them, an entire school behind them — they have people supporting them. That’s why your team is able to succeed. The teachers, the administration, even the custodial staff: everybody came together to help us and make sure we did everything we could to do as well as we did.”
The preparation and camaraderie-building required of the ECR team, which had studied diligently and tirelessly since last summer, provided more than simply formal education.
“It’s really taught me how to collaborate with others,” said Avery Tamura, 17, a senior. “Before DECA, I was very prideful and kind of inflexible. But because you’re cramming with people all the time, you do learn more about yourself. One of my other teammates is stubborn as well, and we were clashing a lot. But it made me see that some things are more important, like strong relationships — that’s more important.
“[And] a lot of the events are useful for further on, like the interviews and learning how to study. Most of us, we’re just expected to know how to study in high school. But this really prepared me; I learned what really helps me learn. We had one guide, and it was the same information over and over again, but there was this one fact I really couldn’t wrap my head around until one of my teammates really explained it well to me. Being able to see it from that perspective really helped me. I learned more about being ready for college and other things.”
Matthew Fitzmorris, 17, and a senior who is deciding between attending UC Santa Barbara and UC San Diego this fall, could have just as easily been a member of the ECR boys’ City championship cross-country team. Instead he poured his efforts into the academic contest.
“They’re both about endurance,” said Fitzmorris, comparing cross-country running and the academic decathlon. “It’s physical, because my sleep schedule changed a lot; I slept a lot less when I joined this team. But it’s also about mental endurance. You have to study for hours on end, stay awake, and keep positive. It’s kinda hard to keep positive sometimes when you’ve been there awhile. You make jokes with your friends and stay happy.”
He said he would recommend the experience to others.
“It is a really big commitment, really grueling. [But] you learn a lot about yourself and you become a much harder worker. I’m much more prepared to take on things like college, which is a lot of hard work as well.”
More than 600 students from the United States, Canada, China and the United Kingdom competed April 19-21 at the Embassy Suites by Hilton on April 19-21 in Frisco for the title.
The theme for this year’s 10-event competition was Africa. Contestants were tested on art, economics, music, language and literature, mathematics, science, sociascience, speech, interview, and essay. The final event was a Super Quiz that offered questions from every subject.
El Camino Real won that, too.
With seven of the eight-member team being seniors, Franklin and other instructors will basically start all over in constructing the team for the 2018-19 academic year.
But this group of Conquistadors will always have a special place in her memories.
“I’m gonna remember they are a good team — good teammates and good people,” Franklin said. “They take care of each other. if someone’s unhappy, they rush to make a joke or a card to make them feel better. If someone’s feeling great, they rush to celebrate with them instead of tearing them down.
“There’s a reason they set records this year. It’s because they were always together as ‘that group,’ and, ‘that team.’”
This is the 16th consecutive year that the national title has been won by a school from California.