Woodbridge High places third, OC students earn honors at the California Academic Decathlon

Woodbridge High School’s Academic Decathlon team celebrates its third-place win at the California Academic Decathlon March 25. (Courtesy of Mike Nakaue)

With months of academic decathlon preparation in the books, Orange County students reached new heights, placing among the top scorers at the 44th annual California Academic Decathlon on March 25. 

After winning its sixth Orange County Academic Decathlon championship in seven years, Irvine’s Woodbridge High School clinched yet another third-place title at the state contest, where students showcased their knowledge in subjects like science, art, economics and mathematics. Also earning distinction were teams from Valencia, University, Kennedy and Westminster high schools, as well as Fairmont Preparatory Academy.

Kennedy High School Academic Decathlon students (Photos courtesy of California Academic Decathlon)

This year’s event — themed “The American Revolution and the New Nation” — invited student teams from 59 high school campuses to compete for the best scores in each division and a spot in the national competition. Throughout the 10-event decathlon, students participated individually and with their teammates by completing multiple-choice exams, essays, speeches and interviews.

The nine-student team from Woodbridge took third place in Division 1 with a total of 46,378.4 points, topping its first-place score at the county decathlon in February. Placentia’s Valencia High finished in 11th place in the same division, with University High in Irvine just two spots behind in 13th.

In Division 2, students from Kennedy High in La Palma racked up 44,225.8 points, which placed them first in their division and fifth overall. In fact, their score was more than 10,000 points higher than their total from the county decathlon. Fairmont Preparatory Academy in Anaheim and Westminster High also distinguished themselves as the top two teams in Division 3. A complete list of the decathlon’s winners can be found on the California Academic Decathlon website.

“It was very exciting to see so many of our Orange County students up on the big screens at the state awards ceremony and to see our schools win an impressive total of 84 individual medals and six team award trophies,” said Orange County Department of Education Coordinator Kristin Rigby. “This is one of the most successful competitions our county has ever had.” 

Fairmont Preparatory Academy Academic Decathlon students

Woodbridge’s academic decathlon coach Mike Nakaue said his students were “ecstatic and overjoyed” to be recognized with third place in both overall team scores and the high-energy Super Quiz event.

“The mantras ‘Keep improving’ and ‘Never enough’  kept them driving on to the end,” Nakaue said.

El Camino Real Charter High School in Los Angeles, which finished in second place last year, won the 2023 competition with 52,384.7 points, while last year’s champion, Granada Hills Charter High School, scored just 363 fewer points to place second. As the state champion, El Camino Real will travel to Texas in April to complete in the U.S. Academic Decathlon Nationals. 

Hosted in Santa Clara, this year’s event returned to an in-person format that was both fast-paced and high-stakes.

“Like a March Madness basketball game, you see the ups and downs of emotion in students with the in-person academic competition,” Nakaue said. “The journey for this team has come to an end but the work ethic and self-discipline they developed I am certain will carry over into other aspects of their lives.”

Westminster High School Academic Decathlon students

The Academic Decathlon was founded and created by former Orange County Superintendent Dr. Robert Peterson in 1968, who envisioned a “decathlon of studies” as a prisoner during World War II. Ever since, high school teams made up of nine students have competed at the county, state and national levels in scholastic competitions based on an annual theme.

Each team must be made up of three “Honor” students (those with GPAs of 3.80 and above), along with three “Scholastic” students (GPAs of 3.20 to 3.79) and three “Varsity” students (GPAs of 3.199 and below).