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Super Quiz Relay caps off California's Academic Decathlon

March 16, 2009|Mitchell Landsberg
  • Sol Moon, 16, left; Scott Buchanan, 16; and Michael Fantauzzo, 18, all of Moorpark High School, concentrate on their teammates during the Super Quiz Relay.
Sol Moon, 16, left; Scott Buchanan, 16; and Michael Fantauzzo, 18, all of… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

SACRAMENTO — You could have cut the tension with some really sharp repartee, this being a room full of very smart people.

"Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the theater?" tried emcee Amy Lewis after some technical glitches threatened to gum up the finale of the state Academic Decathlon on Sunday night.

That didn't entirely soothe the more than 500 competitors from 60 California high schools, or their coaches and parents, who half-filled the cavernous Sacramento Memorial Auditorium for the last event in a grueling two-day match to select the brainiest team of high schoolers in the state.

"Amateur hour," groused Marshall High coach Larry Welch.

But after discarding a rogue PowerPoint presentation that was displaying the wrong answers to quiz questions, the competition went on. ("We do truly apologize," state director Ken Scarberry said later.)

The unofficial winner of Sunday night's Super Quiz Relay, the only portion of the Decathlon waged in public, was no surprise. Perennial champ El Camino of Woodland Hills scored 58 of a possible 60 points. The score, however, counts for only 4% of the total.

The overall winner, which will represent California in the national Academic Decathlon in Memphis, Tenn., next month, is scheduled to be announced today.

Southern California, where the decathlon was developed, has established something close to a stranglehold on the national title. In six of the last eight years, the national champion has been either El Camino or its rival, Moorpark, which won last year. And Taft High of Woodland Hills won in one of the other years.

El Camino and Moorpark were considered the teams to beat in the state finals again this year. They racked up the highest scores in the nation in their regional finals.

For students from those schools, the goal was clearly winning the title. To most schools, though, just being part of the state finals was an honor.

Win or lose, senior Brenda Guzman of Crenshaw High figured there was no downside.

"I'll be happy with giving our school, Crenshaw, a much better reputation," she said as she prepared for the Super Quiz. "I don't think there's anything to be disappointed with. We've all tried our hardest."

To Crenshaw, mere participation was especially sweet: It was the first time the school -- whose academic stature had fallen so far in recent years, it briefly lost its accreditation -- ever made it to the state finals.

"Crenshaw is known as a sports powerhouse," said senior Eric Aparicio, a member of the team. "I'm happy that after this, and many more years of coming to state, Crenshaw will be known as an intellectual powerhouse and not just a sports powerhouse."

Crenshaw finished with a more than respectable 51 points in the Super Quiz Relay, and Eric said he was "pretty happy" with the results. And he had something to look forward to: After months of relentless study, he said, "I can finally get some sleep now."

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mitchell.landsberg@latimes.com

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