Irvine’s University High School wins its first Orange County Academic Decathlon

Orange County has a new Academic Decathlon champion — and the makings of a crosstown rivalry.

Irvine’s University High School earned top honors and an automatic bid to the California Academic Decathlon after finishing first in the 10-event competition, which took “The Cold War” as its theme. Woodbridge High School, also in the Irvine Unified School District, took second place after winning the previous four years.

Virtual awards ceremony screenshot
University High School in Irvine has won its first Orange County Academic Decathlon championship. The announcement came during a virtual awards ceremony Wednesday night.

“The students and I are completely overjoyed,” University High coach Chris Esposito told the OCDE Newsroom. “We have never won the county championship before, so this is huge for our school’s history.”

Esposito credited his students with mastering the concept of teamwork.

“They knew that all nine needed to perform well, and they supported each other well,” he said. “They not only learned so much about the Cold War but also about the power of a group effort.”

About 350 students from 32 schools participated in this year’s Orange County Academic Decathlon over three consecutive Saturdays from Jan. 23 through Feb. 6. All of the events were adapted to an online format except the rapid-fire Super Quiz Relay, which didn’t quite translate.

The official awards ceremony was streamed online Wednesday evening, culminating in University High’s coronation and the news that Woodbridge High’s Melissa Tsaowimonsiri posted the highest individual score with 9,237.3 points.

But dozens of other medals were also awarded to top performers, and a total of 10 Orange County schools found out they’re headed to the state finals based on their overall scores.

Joining the University and Woodbridge squads at the California Academic Decathlon in March will be Valencia, Garden Grove, Westminster, Beckman, Troy, Trabuco Hills, Esperanza and San Juan Hills high schools. The National Finals will follow in April.

“We are thrilled to have 10 teams invited to the state decathlon this year,” OCDE Coordinator Kristin Rigby said. “I’m so proud of our students for demonstrating such grit and determination through this challenging time, and it was particularly fun to see some new schools invited, including Beckman, Garden Grove, Esperanza and San Juan Hills.”

Here’s a breakdown of the top Orange County teams and their overall scores. (Schools advancing to the state competition are in bold. See below for details on the first-place teams in Division 2.)


  • First place: University High, Irvine Unified School District, 44,289.9
  • Second place: Woodbridge High, Irvine Unified School District, 43,709.5
  • Third place: Valencia High, Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District, 43,539.9
  • Fourth place: Garden Grove High, Garden Grove Unified District, 42,535.3
  • Fifth place: Westminster High School, Huntington Beach Union High School District, 40,736.8
  • Sixth place: Trabuco Hills High School, Saddleback Valley Unified School District, 38,896.2
  • Seventh place: Esperanza High School, Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District, 38,070.9


  • First place: Troy High, Fullerton Joint Union High School District, 39,700
  • First place: San Juan Hills High, Capistrano Unified School District, 35,177.7
  • Second place: Pacifica High, Garden Grove Unified School District, 34,920.1
  • Third place: El Dorado High, Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District, 34,290.1
  • Fourth place: Yorba Linda High, Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District, 34,040.6


  • First place: Beckman High, Tustin Unified School District, 39,797.1
  • Second place: Corona del Mar High, Newport-Mesa Unified School District, 33,022.3
  • Third place: Santiago High, Garden Grove Unified School District, 30,062.5
  • Fourth place: Magnolia Science Academy, a charter school in Santa Ana, 25,250.0

A decathlon of studies

The Academic Decathlon was originally conceived by former Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Peterson, who envisioned “a decathlon of studies” while serving as a prisoner of war during World War II. The first contest took place at Bolsa Grande High School in 1968.

These days, decathlons are staged at the county, state and national levels, with nine-member teams competing on objective tests, speeches, interviews and essay assignments. The rules dictate that each team must have three “Honor” students (those with GPAs of 3.80 and above), along with three “Scholastic” students (GPAs of 3.20 to 3.79) and a trio of “Varsity” students (GPAs of 3.199 and below).

Hosted by OCDE, the 53rd annual Orange County Academic Decathlon was sponsored by Del Taco, NuVision Federal Credit Union, Disney VoluntEARs, Aeries Software, Frontline Education and Achieve3000.

Editor’s note: Due to a division placement error, Troy High School’s main team was not originally included among the top 10 teams in the original version of this story. It has since been determined that Troy High is the first-place winner in Division 2, and the school has received an invitation to participate in the state competition. San Juan Hills High School, previously announced as the first-place winner in Division 2, will maintain its first-place award in Division 2 and will participate in the state competition.