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Berkmar High's decathletes proud of team's performance

LILBURN - Agni Chandora said she thinks the Academic Decathlon team is the best thing about her school because everyone pitches in to help the students prepare for competitions.

Before a competition, team members meet two to three times a week to take practice exams and prepare for the subjective tests in public speaking, personal interview and written essay. Teachers will ease up on their workload for a few days, and some will stop by to help coaches Christopher Pae and Brian Bernhardt.

The preparation pays off, because Berkmar High's team has won the state championship trophy for six consecutive years. The team recently competed in the national competition in Garden Grove, Calif., where they placed 19th out of 40 overall.

The Academic Decathlon is a scholastic competition that tests students in several categories - art, economics, essay, interview, language and literature, mathematics, science, social science and speech - based on an overarching theme. This year's topic was the Civil War.

The competition is unique because each team must be composed of students with A, B and C grade point averages - or Honors, Scholastic and Varsity members.

Mai Himedan, a Varsity player, said her participation in the competition helped her develop better study habits.

"I usually don't care about school," she said. "But I thought about how much studying would help the team."

Fahad Chowdhury, another Varsity player, said he likes being a decathlete because he isn't hindered by his grade point average. He said his participation also has helped him academically because he's surrounded by some of the best students in the school, including the valedictorian, Liani Nisimova, who won a $500 scholarship as the top scorer in Georgia and placed nationally in the top 10 in seven of the decathlon events.

"It motivates you to do well," Chowdhury said.

Bernhardt, a team coach, said he is impressed with how involved the students are with extracurricular activities. Many of the team members were sometimes 15 or 20 minutes late to practice because they were meeting with another group before Decathlon practice.

"To me, it's impressive to see how much stuff they can balance," he said.

Many of the team members, such as Scholastic player Allan Marin, were first-time participants in the decathlon. He said it was challenging to prepare for the competition, but he was excited to represent his school - and the state - in California.

Himedan said she's proud of how her school has performed. Berkmar High is diverse, and the number of students living in poverty has increased in recent years.

"Our academics are strong," she said, "even though we're not considered to be the wealthiest school in the county."

The students who participated in the national competition were Nisimova, Chandora, Marin, Himedan, Chowdhury, Anu Laxmi, Andrew Harazin and Joel Mathew.