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Moorpark Academic Champions May Meet President


The Moorpark High School Academic Decathlon team learned Thursday that President Clinton may personally congratulate them on their national title. The championship team and their coaches plan to travel to Washington next month, where plans are in the works for them to attend a Rose Garden ceremony with Clinton and Arpad Goncz, president of Hungary.

Decathlete Arturo Barragan said the trip will be "something I'll remember for the rest of my life--and I'm only 18. . . . How many times am I going to go to Washington, D.C., and meet the president? I'm not like Forrest Gump or anything."

After Moorpark's April 18 victory in Anaheim, Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) wrote the White House to request an invitation for the team.

"We do not know at this point whether they're going to have a private audience with [Clinton] or not," said Tom Pfeifer, press secretary for Gallegly. "If nothing else, they'll get to see a ceremony with the president of the United States with the president of Hungary, which normal tourists don't get to see. They will feel special because they are special."

A tour of the White House will also be a part of the June 6-9 itinerary, Pfeifer said. In addition, the eight teammates will tour the Capitol, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and several museums, coach Larry Jones said.

"I used to take students there every summer, so I know it's really impossible to do everything in two days," Jones said. "You can't do everything in two weeks."

The star students--all but two of whom have never been to D.C., Jones said--have to miss some of their last classes before final exams to make the trip.

"We talked to the teachers, who said, 'They have a choice between three days of classes or going to the White House. Take them to the White House,' " Jones said.

Northwest Airlines has offered free tickets to carry the team to Washington, and Target Stores has donated $5,000 toward their expenses, he said.

Washington is the latest addition to a nationwide victory lap the decathletes have taken since their win. On May 26, seniors Barragan, Alexandra Dove, John Ellis, Valerie Lake, Nick Lange, Mitul Patel and Rebecca Wershba, along with junior Ari Shaw and coaches Jones and Michelle Bergman, will fly to Florida to witness the launch of the space shuttle Discovery.

The team had planned to leave Monday, but a hailstorm delayed the launch until May 27. The Florida trip, courtesy of Boeing and Rocketdyne, will include a tour of Kennedy Space Center and Universal Studios.

On May 24, team members will fly to Sacramento to present Gov. Gray Davis with the trophy they won while representing California.

And last week, Barragan, Shaw and Wershba took on a team of college professors in a TV quiz show that will air in early June. Moorpark lost to the professors by one question.

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