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Marshall High Upsets Taft in Academic Super Quiz : Education: Returning champion is third after El Camino Real in 14th-annual districtwide contest. Overall winner will be announced at Nov. 29 banquet.


Only a few miles from the Rose Bowl, and down the street from the USC campus, another heated school rivalry was roiling Saturday evening at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

After 11 hours of brain-wrenching competition, Marshall High School upset returning city, state and national champion Taft High in the Super Quiz event of the Los Angeles Unified Academic Decathlon, finishing ahead of 54 teams from around the city.

Unofficial results placed Woodland Hills' Taft third, after Marshall High of Los Feliz and second-place El Camino Real High, also of Woodland Hills.

The Super Quiz, a supercharged, high school version of "Jeopardy," was the culmination of a daylong battery of tests, essays and speech contests. This year, students answered three sets of 15 questions on biotechnology.

A Super Quiz victory almost always indicates a strong overall showing, but it is an uncertain indicator of who will ultimately take first place in the decathlon. In the 13-year history of the L.A. school district decathlon, 11 Super Quiz winners have gone on to finish in the top three, but only six have been named champions.

Although the results of the Super Quiz were released immediately, the 1994 district champions will not be announced until a Nov. 29 awards banquet. In March, the team will go on to compete in a statewide decathlon in Fresno.

In the Super Quiz, Marshall scored 88 out of 90 possible points, which means four of the nine team members had perfect scores.

"The students studied hard and it showed," Marshall coach Phil Chase said. "Finishing first in the Super Quiz is a good indicator of where you're going to end up. I think it's safe to say that we're going to be in the top three."

"We're excited, but we'll have to wait until (the banquet) for the results," said James Evrard, one of the Marshall team members who got a perfect score. "We were prepared for harder questions . . . but winning was still great."

Taft coach Arthur Berchin said his team, which finished five points behind Marshall, would be challenging two of the Super Quiz questions because they were poorly worded and may have had two correct answers. Even if their challenge prevails, it will have little result on the official outcome of the Super Quiz, he said.

Marshall coach Chase said that he too thought that the questions were ambiguous, but said they were included in study guides provided by the national offices of the academic decathlon.

The Super Quiz began with a flourish, the teams marching in buoyantly to the "Olympic March," performed by the Roosevelt High School band. Students flashed big smiles and threw thumbs-up signs to the wildly cheering audience of about 1,500 people.

When the Super Quiz began, the crowd hushed to hear KTLA news anchor Larry McCormick read the first question, which seemed oddly topical given the nation's fixation with the O.J. Simpson trial.

"One of the techniques of molecular biology in forensic science used to exonerate innocent crime suspects. . . ," McCormick asked.

After a regulated seven-second pause, during which each contestant tried to mark the correct answer from a list of five choices, many competitors threw up their arms in triumph when McCormick intoned the correct answer: "DNA fingerprinting."

After the first round of 15 questions, El Camino Real held a one-point lead over Taft, University and Marshall. But when second round results were displayed, Taft and University had fallen farther behind and the scene was set for a battle between Marshall and El Camino Real, which then trailed by only two points.

"It feels like we're in the fourth quarter trying to run out the clock!" shouted Chuck Merman, Marshall's athletic director, to a group of anxious parents and students.

But when the quiz score was tallied, indicating a perfect performance in the final round, many in the audience--including two rows of uniformed cheerleaders from the Los Feliz school--broke out in cheers of, "Marshall! Marshall! Marshall!"

And while Marshall, El Camino Real, Taft and other high-ranking schools looked forward to the awards banquet, students from less successful schools took pride in their individual accomplishments.

Fairfax High team member Thomas Arnold elatedly ran to a distant bank of telephones to call his parents. "I got 14 out of 15 on the Super Quiz," he said, smiling broadly.

Kenneth Kleven came to the Convention Center to watch his son Doug compete for Marshall. "It's very satisfying just to know that Doug's a participant," Kleven said, as he watched the teams vie for the title. "He participates in cross-country and other sports but this is a lot more meaningful. This is something that will last him the rest of his life."

Los Angeles County high schools held a separate decathlon competition Saturday in which Diamond Bar High School walked off with Super Quiz honors. In second place was Nogales High School, from the Rowland Heights Unified School District, and in third place was South High School from Torrance.

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