A team from Los Angeles High School eked out a victory Saturday night in an oral competition of the California Academic Decathlon, beating several perennial favorites in the game show-style competition.
The Super Quiz contest, which attracted 1,100 enthusiastic fans to UCLA's John Wooden Center, was the final event -- and the only one open to the public -- of the annual, three-day state decathlon.
The overall winner will be announced today and advance to next month's national contest in San Antonio.
The nine-member Los Angeles High team scored 59 of a possible 60 points on the oral quiz, answering rapid-fire questions about the Renaissance.
Moorpark High School finished second, with 57 points. Longtime powerhouses El Camino Real High and Taft High, both in Woodland Hills, tied for third place with 55 points.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday March 21, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
Academic Decathlon -- An article in Sunday's California section misidentified the codirector of the California Academic Decathlon as Jeff Sutton. His name is Jack Sutton. The story also stated that Taft and Marshall high schools each have a national decathlon victory. Each school has won two national titles.
When the results flashed on an overhead screen, the winning team celebrated with hugs and high-fives.
Los Angeles High teacher Jim Hatem, who has coached the school's team for 18 years, said he was proud of his students' performance.
"We are an inner-city school that by every objective measure has no business even being at the state competition," he said. "But if you take nine kids and expect them to do well, these kids can compete with anybody."
Founded in 1968, the Academic Decathlon is perhaps the best known of all high school scholastic competitions, with teams from across the country taking part each year. Students cram for the contests for months.
"It's like a sporting event of the mind," said Bernice Schaffer, mother of Taft team captain Dean Schaffer, as she watched the event Saturday.
The oral part of the two-part Super Quiz accounts for just 4% of the total decathlon score, said Jeff Sutton, co-director of the California Academic Decathlon. For the rest, students endure a grueling series of multiple-choice tests, along with speeches, interviews and essays.
For more than two decades, California teams have placed first or second in every national showdown except in 1992.
Cliff Ker, decathlon coordinator for the Los Angeles Unified School District, said Taft, El Camino and Moorpark are among the country's strongest teams this year, along with Granada Hills Charter in Granada Hills.
"This will probably be one of the best competitions ever in any state at any time," Ker said.
Juliana Brandes, the mother of Zac Ellington, a Taft team senior, said: "I just think all the kids here should be applauded for their efforts. I'm just in awe of all of them."
Last year, El Camino upset L.A. Unified winner Taft to become the 2005 state champion, and then captured its second consecutive national title.
El Camino has four national victories under its belt, while Taft and another L.A. Unified school, Marshall High, have one each.