Academic Decathlon Regional Championship Banquet

Held at Quiet Cannon in Montebello

South Pasadena High School Academic Decathlon Champions 2018.
Front row, from left: Zane Atkinson and Assistant Coach Tim An. Back row: Adam Hamden, Allison Ou, Danny Safoui, Head Coach Oliver Valcorza, Dexter Hawes, Thomas Sawano, Stephen Chin, Ryan Jeong, and Grace Goldman.

The South Pasadena High School Academic Decathlon Team will be heading to Sacramento next month to compete in the State Championship after earning first place last week in the Los Angeles County Regional Decathlon for the fourth year in a row. In the process, the Tigers recorded their highest ever team total at the regional level, 57,353.70 points, out of a possible 60,000.

Nearby schools, such as Arcadia HS, La Cañada HS and Alhambra HS, all finished at least 10,000 points behind South Pasadena. Mark Keppel HS, which has emerged as one of the Tigers’ top challengers in recent years, finished second overall with 55,071.00 points.

The 2018 academic decathlon competition, under the theme of Africa, tests students on their knowledge of arts, language and literature, math, economics, social science, science and music, as well as their interviewing, speaking, and writing skills.

Teams are made up of nine students overall, three each at the honor level (3.75 and above GPA), scholastic level (3.0-3.75 GPA) and varsity level (2.99 and below GPA).

60 teams gathered Feb. 8 at Quiet Cannon in Montebello for the regional championship banquet ceremony, anxiously awaiting the announcement of the individual and team gold, silver and bronze placing finishers. The LA County Decathlon is open to all teams in the county outside of Los Angeles Unified School District.

Individually, South Pasadena’s Thomas Sawano finished as the top academic decathlete, followed by teammates Stephen Chin, Allison Ou, and Adam Hamden, in that order. Dexter Hawes and Grace Goldman finished 5th and 9th, respectively. The other Tigers, Ryan Jeong, Zane Atkinson and Danny Safoui, all earned gold, silver or bronze in multiple individual categories.

Principal Janet Anderson, part of the South Pasadena delegation along with Assistant Principals David Speck and Janet Wichman, watched from the second row as Tiger after Tiger approached the stage to accept a medal.

“I am so proud of these students,” Anderson said. “Under the dedicated direction of Mr. Oliver Valcorza, they have worked tirelessly as a cohesive team to learn about Africa and consistently demonstrate their knowledge. They are impressive, and respected by their competitors.”

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The top placing Sawano, who admitted during the competition that he was “a little overwhelmed by all the success,” competes as a scholastic student. He not only outscored the three honors level students on his own team, but the 180 students from around Los Angeles County who entered as honors students as well.

Team members were elated and proud. “I honestly never expected that I would be here and much less getting six medals,” Goldman, who is competing on the team for the first year, said. “I’m really glad I joined and I’m really proud of the team.” Danny Safoui, another rookie, acknowledged he was worried entering the day, but was glad that all the work he put in “paid off.”

The next round is the state tournament in Sacramento on March 21-26. Valcorza expects competition at the state level to be “brutal,” adding that he hopes “for South Pas to finish in the top five.” He plans to use the same practice strategy to prepare. “Group studies, tutorials, discussion seminars, and lots of games like battle of the brains and musical chairs,” he said.