University, Woodbridge high schools finish in the top 10 at the California Academic Decathlon

Two high schools from Irvine posted top-10 scores over the weekend at the 2021 California Academic Decathlon.

On the heels of winning its first Orange County Academic Decathlon in February, University High School earned seventh place overall at the state-level contest, while Woodbridge High finished one spot away in eighth place. Both campuses are in the Irvine Unified School District.

Students standing outside
A team of students from University High School in Irvine placed seventh at the 2021 California Academic Decathlon after winning the Orange County Academic Decathlon in February.

Valencia High in the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District scored 13th place in Division 1 competition, and Garden Grove High finished the weekend in 19th place.

In Division 2, Beckman High won 10th place, followed by Westminster High at No. 12 and Troy High School at No. 14, according to results posted online. In Division 3, Esperanza High finished ninth and San Juan Hills High was 24th.

OC students collect medals

Dozens of Orange County decathletes also picked up individual medals at the 42nd annual California Academic Decathlon, which once again ended with the coronation of Granada Hills Charter High School as state champion.

A perennial juggernaut, Granada Hills has won seven of the last nine national championships and will look to defend its title at this year’s Virtual Nationals, which takes place April 29 through May 1.

Decathlon season may be over for Orange County schools, but 2021 will be remembered as the year 10 local teams made it all the way to the state finals, setting a new record.

“Academic Decathlon is challenging in a normal year,” OCDE Coordinator Kristin Rigby said. “So for 10 Orange County teams to achieve high enough scores to earn invitations to the state competition and then bring home over 50 individual medals, it is truly admirable.”

“Winning a medal at the state decathlon competition is not an easy feat, and all 10 of our OC schools brought home at least one medal,” Rigby said. “It’s fantastic. I am exceptionally proud of our hardworking decathletes.”

Collage of students and coaches
Woodbridge High’s Academic Decathlon team, which has become a force in recent years, finished in eighth place at this year’s state-level competition.

A decathlon of studies

The Academic Decathlon was created by former Orange County Superintendent Dr. Robert Peterson, who envisioned a “decathlon of studies” as a prisoner during World War II. Since 1968, high school teams have competed at the county, state and national levels in 10-event scholastic competitions based on an annual theme. This year’s theme was “The Cold War.”

While the contest has expanded and evolved over the decades, decathlons in 2021 looked markedly different, moving to an online format during the pandemic. At the same time, they stayed true to Dr. Peterson’s vision, with squads striving for the highest collective scores on objective tests, speeches, interviews and essay assignments.

Per the rules, decathlon teams from each school 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 three “Varsity” students (GPAs of 3.199 and below).

Approximately 700 students from nearly 80 high schools participated in the 2021 California Academic Decathlon after months of intense studying and impressive performances at their county-level competitions. You can find the full list of team and individual honors at