SAN ANTONIO — Taft High School students celebrated what they hoped would not be their sole victory here Friday after they won the "Super Quiz" portion of the U.S. Academic Decathlon championships.
Although the win makes up just 4% of the total team scores, it was nevertheless a psychological victory for the Taft seniors as they wrapped up the last of 10 grueling tests and presentations in the rigorous two-day competition. The winner of the national title will be announced Saturday night.
Clad in his new red Taft High School jacket, David Novgorodsky jumped onto the back of teammate Michael Farrell. As Monica Schettler put it: "I'm relieved. I don't have to study ever again."
The nine-member Taft squad also learned other promising tidings. Atish Sawant's satirical look at the future of Halliburton had been selected as one of the 12 best overall in the prepared speech competition. Sawant and the rest of the finalists were to publicly deliver their speeches again Friday night.
Coach Arthur Berchin, who had been pacing nervously like an expectant father while the students crammed, said he feared the speech would not go over well. Not only was it a satire (as were five of the other Taft students' speeches), but the competition site is in Texas, home to Halliburton and the experts judging the event.
Sawant, 18, had spent 45 minutes the night before he gave his speech trying to iron the suit he was going to wear, without much success. He was rescued by Taft's college counselor Elena Paul, whose mission was to check all seven young men's suits and ties, because appearance is factored into the scores of the personal interview and the prepared and impromptu speaking events.
During the Super Quiz portion, the competitors took turns onstage as an announcer fired off five questions about this year's theme, the European Renaissance. For example: Which Renaissance humanist wrote the important treatise on moral philosophy titled "On the True Good"?
Berchin noted that the students scored 38 out of a possible 45 points, narrowly putting them ahead of Illinois' Whitney Young Magnet School with 37 points and Wisconsin's Waukesha West with 36.
"I'm proud of my students, don't misunderstand," Berchin said. "But the [Super Quiz] competition in the L.A. [district] is so ferocious that schools like L.A. High would have put us to shame."
With the testing out of the way, the team could finally start to kick back. They had dined on takeout fare brought into their windowless conference room/study hall since arriving Sunday.
Team captain Dean Shaffer said he hadn't seen the sun until Thursday, when they were bused to the first test.
They will head for the Six Flags amusement park Saturday before the awards banquet that evening.
Berchin was a little more relaxed Friday afternoon before the team headed out to a local Mexican restaurant to celebrate the end of the testing.
"It's a big, heavy weight off my back," he said. "There's nothing we can do at this point. It's all over."