For the first time in half a decade, West High School in Torrance didn't win the annual Los Angeles County Academic Decathlon - but it came close.

Long a powerhouse in the battle of book smarts, West High took second place in this year's contest, behind Beverly Hills High School, according to results released Wednesday by the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

"I don't think you could say any of us are disappointed," West High coach Ann Cortina said Wednesday. "We lost a lot of key players last year, and had some new members that hadn't competed at this level before. ... I would say second place isn't too shabby."

Indeed, there is no reason for West High to despair: Beverly Hills amassed nearly 54,000 points out of a possible 60,000 - the highest score in the 37-year history of the county contest, said Kostas Kalaitzidis, spokesman for the county Office of Education. West High finished a distant second, garnering about 45,000 points.

Also placing in the top 10 this year were two other South Bay teams: Redondo Union High School (sixth) and South High School in Torrance (seventh).

Because the top finisher and six wild-cards will advance to the state finals in March, all three South Bay teams have won berths to the next tournament, which will take place in Sacramento.


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This year's tournament, which occurred on two consecutive Saturdays ending this weekend, took place in two venues - the cafeteria of El Rancho High School near Whittier the first weekend, and a gymnasium at USC this past Saturday. In all, 52 teams competed.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Academic Decathlon is not solely for overachievers. Teams consist of nine players, who must represent a range of grade point averages. This means every team must have equal numbers of A, B and C students.

During the tournaments, teammates take multiple-choice tests, write essays and give speeches before judges on specific subjects, all under the pressure of a timer.

Each year's event is based on an educational theme; this year's was Russia.

Some teams like to have a little fun with the theme. Burbank High School - which took third place - came to the contest donning trench coats, felt Soviet hats and masks depicting the faces of iconic Russian characters such as Vladimir Putin, Nikita Khrushchev and Joseph Stalin.

"I asked the coach: `Who's Stalin?' and she said, `Me, of course,"' Cortina said.

With three South Bay schools landing in the top 10 this year, the region fared well, but not as well as last year, when its teams represented half of the top 10.

In another South Bay highlight, the Roberta Kordich Coach Award (for commitment and dedication) went to Torrance High School's Jeff Jones, who is battling cancer. This is actually the second time the award has gone to the history teacher, who claimed the prize several years ago.

Despite the setback, Torrance High performed well this year, placing 11th overall.

While it is custom for counties across the United States to host Academic Decathlon contests, Los Angeles County is unique for its size, and so divides its participants into two tournaments: One for the 58 teams within the Los Angeles Unified School District, and one for the 52 teams from the county's other school districts.

LAUSD results were announced Sunday, with top awards going to Granada Hills Charter School, which last year went on to claim its second-consecutive national title. Its score this year - 56,000 - actually topped that of Beverly Hills High. Top teams from each Los Angeles County tournament are advancing to the state finals on March 14-17. The nationals will take place on April 24-26 in Minneapolis.

As for West High, before this year it had won four consecutive county tournaments, and seven of the last eight. But in recent history the teams from Los Angeles County that have gone on to win the state and national contests have come from LAUSD. 

Standouts at West High included Rahul Chandrupatla, who took home a gold medal for a speech lamenting the loss of meaning for American holidays, and Sean Park, who won a bronze for overall performance.

rob.kuznia@dailybreeze.com

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Top 20 finishers

1. Beverly Hills - 53,990.30

2. West - 45,771.40

3. Burbank - 45,635.00

4. Mark Keppel - 44,327.00

5. El Rancho - 43,332.50

6. Redondo Union - 43,053.80

7. South - 41,654.70

8. Edgewood - 41,582.40

9. West Ranch - 41,487.30

10. South Pasadena - 41,441.80

11. Torrance - 41,081.10

12. Alhambra - 39,057.50

13. Arcadia - 37,840.80

14. Saugus - 37,045.00

15. North - 34,655.10

16. El Segundo - 34,282.00

17. Rosemead - 33,197.20

18. Rowland - 31,910.10

19. Bassett - 30,924.60

20. Peninsula - 30,735.90