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Moorpark Advances in Quest for U.S. Title

Education: The Ventura County high school team wins a key portion of Academic Decathlon competition.


PHOENIX — Moorpark High School won a key portion of the brain-draining Super Quiz contest Friday at the U.S. Academic Decathlon, bringing the Ventura County powerhouse one step closer to recapturing the national title the school won three years ago.

Cheered on by a noisy contingent of parents, teachers and classmates, the eight seniors and one junior who make up Moorpark's team answered 31 out of 45 questions correctly on the public portion of the Super Quiz--the only event in the two-day competition open to the public.

"I am stoked," said a beaming Julie Bristol, who was one of few decathletes to answer all five of her questions correctly in the fast-paced, game-show-style contest. "This is phenomenal."

While a dramatic finale to this battle of brains and stamina, the public portion of the Super Quiz counts for only 4% of a team's total score. The winner of the 21st annual scholastic competition will be announced at an awards banquet tonight.

"It's a good omen," said Kara Bettencourt, one of Moorpark's two coaches. "It means we can go to bed feeling confident."

The Super Quiz involves two multiple-choice tests. Contestants completed one exam earlier in the day, then fielded a second round of questions in a ballroom packed with a wildly cheering audience of more than 800.

Moorpark's supporters were among the most vocal and colorful, sporting sparkly tinsel wigs in green and gold--the school's colors--painted faces and T-shirts that together spelled out the school name.

"This is incredible," Moorpark Principal Anna Merriman said. "It shows how much the kids are loved."

Academic Decathlon, or "aca-deca," is the nation's premier scholastic competition. The contest tested about 500 of the country's brightest high school students in seven subjects, with topics ranging from the poetry of Robert Frost in literature to continuous probability distributions in statistics.

In the Super Quiz, team members from each of 38 states competed one at a time through nine rounds. Seated on a large stage under spotlights, students punched in their answers to questions on an electronic keyboard and filled out separate paper answer sheets.

This year's theme was "E-communication: the Internet and society." Students needed to know, for instance, that redundancy is a problem to be solved in telemedicine technology and that corporate America is the most enthusiastic supporter of a non-regulatory approach to Internet safety.

As the event wore on Friday, tension in the audience mounted; the heat of competition rivaled the 95-degree outside temperature in downtown Phoenix.

Moorpark was ahead by at least one question through most of the event, trailed by Waukesha West High School in Waukesha, Wis., and James E. Taylor High School of Katy, Texas.

For the past nine years under head coach Larry Jones, Moorpark has built a reputation around the state and nation as a decathlon powerhouse. The school has made it to the state-level competition seven times since 1993, and has come in either first or second over the past five years. Moorpark won its first national title in 1999.

This year Moorpark is again the team to beat.

Since last fall, seniors Bristol, Dean Reich, Michelle Kim, Johnny Mendoza, Sheena Sidhu, Andy Song, Sergio Suarez and Jerome Yang and junior Nathaniel Jones have spent hundreds of hours poring over study materials, reciting speeches, writing essays and taking practice quizzes.

They gave up hobbies, sports teams and after-school jobs. But they also formed strong bonds with each other.

"It's a relief, but at the same time it's sad because it's all going to be over soon," Andy said. "But this feeling will never go away. It's amazing."

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