Eli Hallak had always wanted to send the St. Francis High sports medicine program to a national competition, but all the ones he found took place in person and were too expensive with travel and room and board costs.
Hallak, the director of St. Francis' sports medicine program, took matters into his own hands and developed the National High School Sports Medicine Championships, an online competition open to schools across the country, in association with the American Academic Competition Institute and John Meadows of the computer company Meadows and Associates.
"For the students who are really taking [sports medicine] serious, now there's a way to test their knowledge," Hallak said of the competition, which was conducted for the first time on May 21 and is planned to be an annual event. "I started thinking about it 18 months ago and thought, 'Why not take it online?' It costs thousands of dollars to travel with students to those other competitions."
St. Francis had already been annually competing in the California High School Sports Medicine Competition, but Hallak was curious how St. Francis would fare nationally.
The top 10 schools and top 25 individual finishers from the High School Sports Medicine Competition and similar state events qualified for the inaugural national competition. Roughly 425 students from 28 schools in five states — Kansas, Idaho, North Carolina, Washington and California, including Maranatha and La Cañada high — took the test this year with each school being assigned to one of three divisions based on school size.
"It is an even playing field and we can really test and check [the students'] knowledge and see how they stack up against someone else across the nation," said Hallak, as students were tested on their knowledge of first aid, CPR, emergency procedures, medical terminology and legal issues. "It gives them a sense of accomplishment of how well they've done."
It was a two-fold competition. First, everyone took a 250-question test in a two-hour time slot and the top 10 finishers took part in a video conference practical over Skype — or in person in some instances — to determine the final top 10 standings.
"That test ran the gauntlet of everything medical we could throw at them," said Hallak of the hands-on practical. "These are health care classes and health care is very hands-on so we wanted to see where they landed with that."
St. Francis and La Cañada were well-represented in the final standings, as they took first in their respective divisions.
The Golden Knights took first in the Alert Services Small Schools Division with 74.032 points and second place overall behind Wenatchee High (74.822).
The Spartans finished on top of the Jaybird & Mais Medium School Division and fifth overall — behind Valencia (73.903) and Culver City (72.006) — with 71.815 points, thanks to top 10 division finishes from Kristen George (third), Meghan Fuelling (seventh) and Emily Shin (10th).
Maranatha High took fifth in the Small Schools Division (65.879).
St. Francis' Alex Najarian and Brett Homer took first and second place in the Small Schools Division, respectively, with nine other Golden Knights earning All-American honors for placing in the top 25 in the division.
Najarian, a senior, was shocked to learn he placed first.
"Honestly, the day after the practical I was very upset because I thought I totally blew it," Najarian said. "I went to school to pick up my brother from St. Francis and went to the athletic department to look at the results to see how badly I blew it."
For his performance, Najarian earned a $250 college scholarship, along with the top individual finishers from the sponsor of their division, for next year when he'll attend Occidental College where he's thinking of majoring in biology for a career in health care.
"Twelve percent of my students have ended up in health care, that's a neat little factoid," said Hallak, citing a survey he administered to his students about four years ago. "It is neat how these young students come in not knowing what to expect, but end up finding themselves. As a teacher, it is very gratifying."
Homer, along with other second-place finishers, received $150 and third place took home $100.
Germain-Paul Kempis (seventh), Herb Wedekind (ninth), Stephen Hischier (10th), Marcus Liepins (11th), Nick Cascelli (12th), Austin Frank (13th) and Nathan Baker (tied for 16th) each earned All-American status for St. Francis.
Homer felt he and his classmates were well-prepared for the test after they studied with Hallak an hour a day for two weeks and he thinks the St. Francis sports medicine program will only continue to grow as Hallak and the sponsors plan on making the National High School Sports Medicine Championships an annual event.
"It is nice to see how much we know compared to other schools and it gives other classmates another reason to join [the program]," Homer said. "A lot of my friends are on the border of joining, but I think this helps show it is a legit class."
Bailey Stover (11th), Grant Owen (13th), Amy Cronkhite (17), Lauren Galantai (tied for 18), Bijan Rahimi (21) and Julia Tam (24) also earned All-American honors for La Cañada. Maranatha's All-American standouts were Kevin Holm (fifth), Austin Haver-Hill (tied for 16) and Alisa Sihn (20).