Sabrina Carlos stood in front of a packed auditorium in Sacramento this weekend, waiting to be asked a question she had been preparing to answer for weeks. She had cried during the week leading up to this moment, all raw nerves and uncertainty, and she cried on the way up to the stage. Now it was her moment.
The crowd quieted. She answered correctly.
Carlos, a junior at Granada Hills Charter High School, wasn't the only student to come through for her team. After three days of rigorous testing, Granada Hills secured its sixth California Academic Decathlon championship, scoring 55,211 out of 60,000 possible points.
The competition focuses on three divisions based on the ranking of a student's grade point average: Honors (3.75-4.0), Scholastic (3.0-3.74) and Varsity (2.99 or below). The highest-scoring decathletes in each of those groups hailed from Granada Hills Charter, including Carlos in the Varsity division.
This was Carlos' first time on the powerhouse decathlon team. Her tears, which originally welled up from nerves and uncertainty, now flowed in joyous celebration.
"I had pretty low self-confidence before this," Carlos said. "So, leading up to the competition, I was working my hardest but I never really thought that I’d be able to achieve the top score. But I did, and I’m still trying to process it."
The victory wasn't achieved without effort. The team logged countless hours of studying and preparation in the weeks leading up to the competition. Decathletes were expected to be well-versed in 10 subjects and prepared to endure multiple-choice questions, a speech, an interview and an essay. Combine those requirements with a live audience and the pressure was greatly intensified.
But the reward was much more than winning the championship, Carlos said. The decathlon newcomer has emerged from the experience with a newfound sense of time management, a boost of assertiveness and improved grades.
“It’s helped me realize who I am and what I value,” she said.
Following the high-stakes academic whirlwind this weekend, the team will get a brief respite. Then they will be off to Madison, Wisconsin, in April for the 2017 United States Academic Decathlon, where they will compete with students from America, China, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Also during this past weekend's competition, two Los Angeles County high schools won subdivision titles, based on the size of their schools. El Camino Real Charter High School and Edgewood High School will be eligible to compete in the U.S. Academic Decathlon Online National Competition.
“Even though Granada has a history of winning," Carlos said, "we always have the mentality that we don’t hold the championship yet and it’s something we need to earn."