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Valley School Places Second in Super Quiz : Education: Taft High is edged by Texas but still has chance to win overall Academic Decathlon.


TEMPE, Ariz. — In a close race among tournament favorites, Taft High School of Woodland Hills placed second Saturday in the United States Academic Decathlon Super Quiz, landing just behind powerhouse Texas in the pressure-packed "College Bowl"-style event of the national competition.

The Taft team, representing California, scored 27 points out of a possible 30. The Texas squad racked up 28 points in its bid to capture the Lone Star State's fourth straight U.S. decathlon title.

In a tie for third place in the Super Quiz--the final event in the competition--were squads from Arizona and New Jersey, which tallied 26 points apiece and are also favored to be among the top finishers of the overall contest.

The final results of the two-day decathlon will not be known until today, when the Super Quiz scores will be tallied with scores from other competitions. The students compete for individual awards as well as team honors.

"It's just too hard to tell," Taft team member David Bronstein, 17, said of the decathlon's final outcome, which will be announced at an awards ceremony today. "Sure we didn't win the Super Quiz, but the whole thing isn't over yet."

Although the winner of the Super Quiz has often gone on to sweep the title, last year's Super Quiz champ, El Camino Real High School, placed fourth overall.

Taft coach Michael Wilson paid homage Saturday to the strength of the team from Texas--the only state besides California to win the national decathlon in the competition's 12-year history.

"If Texas' Super Quiz score is any indication of their team, they're incredibly strong," Wilson said.

The Taft team is hoping to take back the U.S. crown won by the school in 1989. Saturday's Super Quiz, a high-stakes event that followed a day of tests in six academic disciplines, capped several months of exhaustive preparation that often eclipsed the students' social lives as well as their work in other classes.

In a packed auditorium on the Arizona State University campus, the nine Taft seniors--pitted against students from 43 other states and the District of Columbia--fielded questions based on the lives of 30 world figures, from architects to ballet dancers.

As the Taft contestants took their seats onstage one after the other, all garbed in gray jackets, white shirts and black pants, more than 50 noisy relatives and school officials cheered them on, including a grandmother who had flown to Arizona from England.

"I can't stand it," attorney Paul Bronstein said as he waited to catch a glimpse of his son before the event began. "David's just been working night and day, killing himself."

The teen-ager's diligence paid off: David--the last Taft student in the hot seat--was one of four students on the squad to achieve a perfect score of five.

Another was Mara Weiss, the team's only female member, who, after her performance, clutched her stomach with one hand and used the other to hold tightly onto a "worry rock" that the youths passed to each teammate as he or she took the stage.

For Weiss, 17, the score represented something of a breakthrough. At the city and state tournaments, she fell just shy of perfect tallies after changing correct answers to wrong ones. During the quiz, contestants have seven seconds to respond to each query.

"I've come so close each time," Weiss said after Saturday's contest. This time, she said, she refused to waver from her first intuitive responses to the questions, although on three she was unsure.

The team score of 27 represented an adjusted tally out of the 45 questions asked. Only six of the students' scores counted--the top two of each of three categories of competitors, who are evenly divided among the categories according to their grade-point averages.

The second-place Super Quiz finish was a new experience for the Taft team, which had never failed to win any of its previous competitions, whether in Super Quiz or the overall decathlon.

"It's a different feeling, but I'm not disappointed. We did our best," said team captain Chris Hoag, 18.

"No matter what happens, we're done" with studying and competing, he said, cracking a grin as he added: "That's cause for celebration in itself."

But the tension and pressure certainly will come flooding back at today's awards banquet, coupled with a dose of newfound religious fervor, predicted teammate Leonard An, 17.

"There are no atheists in the Academic Decathlon," he said.

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