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Schools tie in Super Quiz of Academic Decathlon

North Hollywood and Granada Hills beat out 60 other L.A. Unified teams. El Rancho and West Torrance share L.A. County honors.

February 04, 2007|Charles Proctor | Times Staff Writer

Whoops, cheers and a couple of tears punctuated Saturday night for California Academic Decathlon teams from Granada Hills Charter and North Hollywood high schools, which tied for first place in the Super Quiz, the climactic part of the grueling scholastic competition.

About 550 students in 62 nine-member teams from Los Angeles Unified School District high schools competed in the regional contest, which wrapped up Saturday night in the John Wooden Center at UCLA. Teams are made up of three each A, B and C-or-below students.

With hundreds of roaring supporters looking on, students took turns fielding questions on topics ranging from mosquitoes to ice cores in Greenland.

Because it is so large, Los Angeles Unified holds its own competition. Other school districts competed through the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which held its Super Quiz on Saturday afternoon in Torrance.

That competition also produced a tie for first place in the Super Quiz: El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera and West High School in Torrance scored 47 out of 60 points possible.

According to unofficial results for L. A. Unified, Granada Hills and North Hollywood both scored 55 points. Taft High School, last year's national champion, scored 38.

The scores from the other segments of the contest will be added in, and the top teams from L.A. Unified and the rest of the county will compete next month with winners from across California for the state championship.

The Super Quiz victory was the first in recent memory for both L.A. Unified schools. But it was a familiar experience for one of the coaches. Jim Hatem, first-year coach at North Hollywood, previously led Los Angeles High School to 10 Super Quiz wins.

"I guess I brought the chemistry with me," said Hatem, a science teacher at North Hollywood, as his team exchanged grins and high-fives around him.

Across the auditorium, at least one member of the Granada Hills team was near tears after the results were announced.

As her teammates shrieked and jumped, Eunice Lee, 17, wiped her eyes. Like many veteran decathlon teams, Granada Hills started preparing for the competition months ago.

In the weeks leading up to the Super Quiz, they pounded the books so hard that some swore they dreamed about dueling in the decathlon.

"You dream of questions; you dream of answers," Lee said.

"But," she added, "I never dreamed of this."

Granada Hills coach Nicholas Weber said the best he thought his team could place was second, given that the competition included a team coached by Hatem, whom he called a "legend."

"He prepares his team better than anyone else," Weber said. "Well, I guess as well as us, this time."

The Super Quiz, the only part of the decathlon open to the public, at times assumed the aura of a college football game. Onlookers -- many decked out in school colors and sporting face paint -- yelled and stomped their feet. Cheerleaders cavorted and flashed gold pom-poms. The tiger mascot from Lincoln High School dipped and danced in the stands.

The district will announce the overall winner, as well as which teams will advance to the state championship, at an awards banquet Tuesday night.

But the victorious teams aren't necessarily looking at the couple of days before the banquet as downtime.

Asked what she planned to do next, North Hollywood's Jasmine Florentine answered without hesitation: "We study."

charles.proctor@latimes.com

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