STOCKTON — Los Angeles won the Super Quiz at the state Academic Decathlon in the name of the city and the county Saturday as William Taft High School of Woodland Hills tied West High School of Torrance to take the high-stakes event.
But with the results of only one of the competition's 10 events announced, neither school can claim the California title yet. The overall winner will be announced at an awards banquet today.
The Super Quiz is the last--and most pressured--of the tournament events. Students demonstrate their mastery of a predetermined subject by answering 10 oral questions, each worth 100 points; scores are publicly displayed after each question.
The Super Quiz is the only decathlon event to which the public is invited.
"You have every eye in that room looking at you, hoping you either get it right or get it wrong," said Daniel Berdichevsky, 17, of Taft, who along with teammate Sage Vaughn, 17, scored a perfect 10 out of 10. "Either way you please somebody, but you hope to please the people from back home."
Both schools had plenty of people back home to please. About 50 Taft parents, siblings, teachers and friends--wearing red sweat shirts emblazoned with "GO TAFT!" across the chest--took over a section in the University of the Pacific sports arena.
West, representing Los Angeles County, had almost as many supporters, waving yellow pom-poms and shouting approval every time quiz proctors announced the scores.
Laguna Hills High School, representing Orange County, and Bella Vista High School of Sacramento County tied for the Super Quiz's second place. Casa Grande High of Sonoma County finished third.
The overall winning team will go on to represent California at the U.S. Academic Decathlon in Newark, N.J., in April.
Taft, the strong favorite going into the competition--both because of its win last year and for its record-setting scores in the Los Angeles Unified School District competition--said from the beginning that its biggest worry was West High's team.
"I have to congratulate them," said Andrew Salter, 17, of Taft. "Super Quiz was not our strongest subject because we allocated so much time to the others, so we were happy to tie for first."
This year's topic, "The Documents of Freedom," tested students' knowledge of excerpts from historical documents, including the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, Frederick Douglass' Address to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and the Camp David Accord.
While their teammates, parents and friends looked on, three sets of three students from each of the 43 teams were given seven seconds to pick the correct answer to multiple-choice questions such as: what penal code Gandhi was prosecuted under, the attitude of the Mayflower Compact colonists toward King James, and why the preamble of the United Nations Charter says people should unite in strength and live in peace.
Before Saturday's Super Quiz, the students wrote a 60-minute essay, gave a four-minute prepared speech, a two-minute impromptu speech and underwent a seven-minute interview with a panel of judges.
The Taft group was disheartened after Friday's events, in which they took written tests in math, fine arts, economics, science, literature and social studies. Several coaches complained that the tests were unusually difficult, asking students to do square roots without calculators on the science test, for example.
"In a few tests, I felt like giving up," said the team's only junior, Stephen Shaw. "But I just had to plow through it."
The Taft teen-agers were so concerned about their performance that they decided to study instead of going to the traditional Friday night social, in which the students exchange tokens symbolizing their home region.
Rebecca Rissman and Michael Michrowski, both 17, hunkered down at the desk in Mike's hotel room, near a taped-up map of Eastern Europe, and quizzed each other on the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
At 9 p.m. Friday, Taft Coach Arthur Berchin still had plans to review 18-year-old Sheldon Peregino's prepared speech.
Sage Vaughn, 17; Chris Huie 17, and Kimberly Shapiro, 16, found an empty hotel conference room next to the West Coast Bass Fisherman's meeting, and tried to concentrate amid the lingering smell of fish, beer and cigarettes.
The Woodland Hills school has won the California title each of the three times it has represented the Los Angeles Unified School District at the state competition. Last year, the team also finished second in the U.S. Decathlon.
Their preparation this year was no less intense than in previous years, Berchin said. The nine team members were culled from a pool of 25 students who began taking practice tests during the summer.
So all told, Berchin said, the team has probably put in 450 to 500 hours of formal study on top of each of the students' private practice.
With only the announcements of the winners left to go, the students were torn between wanting to collapse from strain and exhaustion and wanting to celebrate at the tournament's Saturday night dance party.
"I can't get in trouble, so it won't be much," Sage said. "We're going to get down and dance. Even if we don't win tomorrow, we've earned it."