HONOLULU — Even in the middle of paradise, the teens studied behind locked doors. For the eight-member Academic Decathlon team from El Camino Real High School, winning what could be a fifth national title was a stronger lure than swimming in the crystal blue waves off Waikiki Beach. “We’ve studied for thousands of hours to get here,” said 17-year-old Frank Soberanis. “It has nothing to do with luck.” On Thursday, 39 teams from across the nation gathered inside a giant hall at the Hilton Hawaiian Village for the first round of written and oral tests. All those hours of study come down to how well they have mastered topics including math, social sciences, literature and art. The daylong mental exercise is just the beginning. Today, they will compete in the Super Quiz, a public event that comprises a large chunk of their total score, with the winner of the national contest being announced Saturday. “We’re lucky in a way that we come from Los Angeles, where we already have good weather, so it’s not too distracting,” said Venus Vakhshori, 18. But others said all their focus could easily shift if they didn’t force themselves into seclusion inside their hotel rooms. “If we go outside, the beach becomes too tempting,” said competitor Shengya Cao. Coaches Liz Johnson and Lissa Gregorio said they’re happy their team has the opportunity to visit Hawaii, although it adds another challenge for the teens. “As coaches, it’s our job to focus on keeping them focused,” Johnson said. “If you’re not competitive, then this is all just a vacation. We’re here to compete.” During a welcome social Wednesday, when coaches and teams got the opportunity to meet one another, the El Camino students sat together with their study guides, looking up only occasionally to watch the traditional Chinese dragon dancers that were part of the entertainment. Members of the Hawaiian decathlon team, meanwhile, said they believe they have the home court advantage this year, though El Camino’s reputation as a strong contender has reached their shores. “We heard they were really good,” said 17-year-old Steven Jarrett, from the Kamehameha Schools, which took the state title this year. “But you never know how it’s going to go. For us, it’s a good thing we’re from here. We’re used to it.” Organizers of the national decathlon said they chose to hold the competition in Hawaii because of corporate sponsorships, something they haven’t had in past years, said Executive Director Les Martisko. “We also chose Hawaii to give the kids an experience,” he said. “There are many who have never been here, and some may never see this again. We haven’t had too many complaints about expenses yet either.” El Camino earned its place in the nationals after winning the state competition last month. As it had done in 2005, El Camino entered the competition this year as a “wild card” team after coming in second to Granada Hills Charter at the Los Angeles Unified School District regional competition. Teams from the San Fernando Valley have been known to dominate since the national competition began more than 25 years ago. El Camino has won the national honor in 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2005. Taft High School, also in Woodland Hills, clinched the title last year for the third time. Ventura County’s Moorpark High School has won two times. El Camino coaches Johnson and Gregorio said the LAUSD invests support and funding into the program, like no other district. “These are kids that love to learn and who want to show what they have learned,” Johnson said. “What’s been amazing is watching them learn teamwork, and to come out of their shell.” — Susan Abram, (818) 713-3664 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
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