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High Schoolers Match Wits in Academic Decathlon


IRVINE — Jeff Skinner sat on a folding chair Saturday in the hushed gymnasium at University High School. The 16-year-old had stayed up until 11:30 the night before preparing for this moment, the start of the Super Quiz, but one thought kept running through his mind.

"This is where you win it or lose it," said Skinner, a Laguna Hills High School student.

The Super Quiz was the last event of the all-day Orange County Grade Academic Decathlon, where 48 teams from Orange County high schools competed for recognition of academic achievement.

The final quiz started off with a sample question:

'Cytogeneticists use a technique known as banding," the announcer read. "This involves . . . ."

The announcer then listed five choices. Seven seconds passed. The buzzer sounded.

"Pencils up," the voice blared. "The answer is D. Staining chromosomes."

Once the warm-up ended, Skinner and his Laguna Hills High team matched wits with the nine-member teams whose members had spent hundreds of hours preparing for the day's events. For the Super Quiz, the teams competed on three academic levels. Each team answered 10 multiple-choice questions on the topic of "Biotechnology: The Next Frontier."

In addition to the Super Quiz, students competed in speech, essay writing, communication and academic areas such as economics, fine arts, language and literature.

Some schools devoted class time to preparing students for the decathlon. Other students studied on their own, but the individual schools make it as competitive as they want, said Joel Walton, the decathlon coach at El Dorado High School in Placentia.

The competition was sponsored by the Orange County Department of Education and designed to encourage students to work together in developing knowledge and to have fun, said Sharon Nelson, one of the organizers.

"The fun is in the challenge," said Greg Guerrero, 17, of Anaheim High School. "It challenges your knowledge of the different areas."

Results of the day's competition will be disclosed at a Dec. 1 awards banquet at the Disneyland Hotel.

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