They were chosen for their intellects as well as their personalities because a good portion of the test involves public speaking. "This test is not for students who just sit down and are quiet, who do their homework and exactly what their teacher says. These are the ones who do well but go home and read Scientific American instead of doing their biology homework, who will read the New York Times instead of their history books," Tokofsky said. "These are the ones with a gleam in their eyes."
In fact, according to decathalon rules, all teams have to be evenly divided among students who had grade averages of A's, Bs, and Cs. "A 4.0 geek could not get on this team," said senior David Florey, who is formally a C student but placed third on his squad and 10th citywide.
Feel the Pressure
The team says they did feel a lot of pressure from peers and administrators especially since Marshall was the champion last year for the first time. "It gets to you," said junior Gideon Javier. "It can make it like we are freaks."
And they complain they get less funding for supplies than athletic teams do.
But they are willing to withstand all that because they get a breadth of knowledge unavailable in other classes. That, they say, should be good preparation for college.
"At first, I thought it was really artificial, like "Trivial Pursuit,' " said Ben Wolf, a senior who placed 11th citywide. "But I gradually came to realize that if you get enough little details, you do derive a complete picture."
Added Matthew Elstein: "I now know the difference between a Durer and a Van Eyck when before I only knew the difference between a Pop Tart and a Sugar Puff."
Tokofsky says he worries that the teen-agers might be under too much strain. He brought in another teacher to lead them through relaxation exercises.
In addition, the coach says he is concerned that school officials use the team's achievements as good public relations to balance out negative school news about truants and drug-users without having to pay much attention to the large body of decent students in between.
Nevertheless, Tokofsky is getting ready to bring the troops back to earth for what they jokingly call the state "Deathalon" at California State University, Sacramento. "They are getting a little cocky," he said.
Other members of the Marshall team are: seniors Stephanie Shelton, Howard Wu, and David Chan and juniors Imelda Dacones and Christopher Nichelson.