St. Lawrence Martyr and Holy Family receive top honors at Academic Junior High Decathlon.On a recent Saturday, 1,000 kids spent their day off from school to take test and test after test. And they were happy --- no, ecstatic --- about doing it.

Representing 100 schools in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, these middle school students participated in the Academic Junior High Decathlon March 10, an annual cerebral competition at the Los Angeles Sports Arena where school teams go brain-to-brain with their fellow Southern California Decathletes.  

Overall top honors went to St. Lawrence Martyr (Redondo Beach) and Holy Family School (South Pasadena); these two teams will represent the Los Angeles Archdiocese at the statewide competition to be held May 5 in Orange County. (In a break from tradition, this year, the top two schools will represent the archdiocese given the enormity of the Los Angeles Archdiocese.)

“The whole experience of Decathlon is a testament to Catholic education,” said Kathy Wise, head coach for St. Lawrence Martyr. “It’s an awesome experience for any school and it was fun for us to watch the neighboring tables win. Our philosophy has been to work hard, treat each other with respect and kindness, and know that God and faith are in the center of all that we do.”

Wise’s two daughters graduated from the school years ago (the youngest in 2006), but the program still draws her back to volunteering her coaching duties; she’s been involved in Decathlon since 2004. “I really love the program and being around kids who have a joy for learning is fantastic,” she said.

With a 6:45 a.m. call, the day started early for Decathletes, but even more so for the team from Notre Dame School in Santa Barbara who set their clocks for 4 a.m. to make the trek into downtown Los Angeles. 

“It’s a great opportunity to show your skills and be with your friends,” said team captain Rachel Fields who has participated in now three Decathlons. “I try to tell my other teammates to do their best and not stress so much. We’re all in this together.”

All through the day-long challenge, the mood on the sports floor fluctuated between joyous jitters and infectious excitement as an estimated 3,000 spectators vigorously clapped, frantically waved signs and enthusiastically cheered.

“It’s really a surreal experience,” said Gabriel Alpuerto from St. Dominic in Eagle Rock.

“It’s cool to be able to say you did it because we all like the challenge,” added Matthew Perez from St. Philomena in Carson.

“It’s a wonderful way to have fun with your friends and learn at the same time,” summarized Naomi Dupres of St. Anthony of Padua in Gardena. 

After the official testing finished and with loud dance music playing, the students blew off steam with an impromptu conga line weaving through the tables. Up in the bleachers, spectators started a “wave” which further fueled the party-like atmosphere on the sports floor.

Founded in 1989 by Dr. Mark Ryan who taught at St. Aloysius Gonzaga School in South Los Angeles, the decathlon began as a small competition involving a handful of schools from the greater Los Angeles area. It has since grown to become a statewide event involving Catholic junior high students from across the United States.

The Decathlon consists of three segments: the Logic Quiz and the Super Quiz (where all 10 teammates participate) as well as individual events that include Roman Catholic doctrine, English, Literature, Science, Mathematics, Current Events, Social Studies and Fine Arts (Art and Music).

While final scores were being tallied, Mass was celebrated on the sports floor with Father David Loftus presiding, who told the Decathletes that while pride is the greatest of all sins, he was giving them all a special dispensation. 

“Just for today, you are allowed to feel pride for what you have done today,” he said. He encouraged them to “take what you know and put it to good use --- that’s a lifelong endeavor.”

Finally, during the awards ceremony, medals were distributed with eager students racing up to the platform to receive the well-deserved prizes. They returned to their seats with hugs and smiles, everyone elevated by the day’s activities.

“For any school that is considering forming an Academic Decathlon team, they should come [witness part of the competition], participate in the beautiful Mass and see the joy in the student’s eyes at the awards ceremony,” said Lisa Barker, science and math teacher and Decathlon coach at Holy Family, whose team will be going to the state tournament. 

“Students will see how the kids work and support each other. It’s rewarding on so many levels.”

To view the photos in color, see

Academic Decathlon Winners

Overall Leaders: St Lawrence Martyr, Redondo Beach; Holy Family, South Pasadena; Cathedral Chapel, L.A.; St. Genevieve, Panorama City; Notre Dame Academy Elementary, West L.A.; Incarnation,. Glendale; St. Mel, Woodland Hills; Sacred Heart, Lancaster; Holy Family, Glendale; St. Jude, Westlake Village; St. Finbar, Burbank; St. Timothy, West L.A.; St. Linus, Norwalk; Our Lady of the Assumption, Claremont; Our Lady of Lourdes, Northridge; St. Martin of Tours, Brentwood; St. Philip the Apostle, Pasadena; St. Philomena, Carson; American Martyrs, Manhattan Beach;  St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Encino.

Team Logic Quiz: St. Lawrence Martyr.

Super Quiz: St. Timothy.

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