HIGHLAND PARK (CBSLA.com)  —  Like a coach getting his or her team ready to take the field, Samuel Kullens gives his charges a pep talk.

“We’ve done fantastic work but let’s do better, every single thing that we do,” says Kullens.

But this pep talk isn’t too athletic standouts. He’s pepping the nine-member academic decathlon team at Franklin High.

The team is prepping for a challenging state competition.

“What drives me is what’s waiting for me at the end — and that is success,” says junior Vanessa Delgadillo.

CBS2’s Amy Johnson spoke to the eager decathletes and their coach Thursday.

The team from Highland Park finished fourth in LAUSD’s Academic Decathlon and tied powerhouse Granada Hills High in the super-quiz portion.

The decathlon pits 59 high schools against each other.

Johnson reports the impressive showing from Franklin was considered unlikely by some. Even from some members of the team.

“As a team we really didn’t think we had the potential to go that far,” says senior Robert Cabrera.

Franklin High’s student body is 90 percent low income. A majority of the Latino students are on free or reduced lunch.

“Although we don’t have the same resources, or the same opportunities, says senior Yamileth Renteria, “because of our backgrounds that’s not something that should limit us. That’s something that should drive us much harder.”

And it’s coach Kullens helping push them.

“If you set the bar high enough and you give them the structure, and an institution in which to succeed, they’ll do it ten times out of ten,” says Kullens.

Franklin High has competed in the decathlon for 25 years — but this was their first super-quiz victory.

“We tied first place with Granada Hills,” says a beaming Kullens, “Who is hyper competitive. Three time national champions. Very polar opposites.”

Franklin High’s Principal, Arturo Valdez, says his students’ hard work has brought this competition to a more level playing field — and it’s not where you come from that matters, but where you are going.

“The majority are what you would consider a non-typical academic decathlon team,” says Valdez, “and they’ve taken on the Bell High Schools and the Garfield High Schools, all these other schools who are turning it up.”

On March 20th these students will be ready to compete against anyone, reports Johnson.

“Show everyone just what we’re capable of,” says Delgadillo.

[Editor’s Note: Eleven local schools, including Franklin, will compete in next month’s state championship competition. The other schools include Granada Hills Charter, El Camino Real Charter, Marshall, Garfield, Bell, Hamilton, North Hollywood, Van Nuys, Grant and Harbor Teacher Prep.]

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