Academic decathlon Super Quiz is a sport unto itself — with the fans to prove it

The fans from Van Nuys High School craned their necks, team members' names scrawled across their faces, looking for their fellow students.

As the team started filing in, the two rows of students in the bleachers waved signs and chanted the coach's name: "Abreu! Abreu! Abreu!"

They were cheering for their school's academic decathlon team.

Los Angeles Unified School District schools completed the annual decathlon Saturday with the game show-style Super Quiz event at the Roybal Learning Center downtown. It's the only event that allowed an audience. And they came out in full force, with hundreds of parents, students and school officials filling the gymnasium's bleachers.

Angel Abreu, a Van Nuys High history teacher and the school's decathlon coach since 1989, offered his students extra credit to attend the competition's grand finale, the Super Quiz. They were surrounded by teachers, principals and teachers from 58 participating schools.

The Super Quiz consists of three rounds of 12 questions — during each round, three students from each team sat huddled in folding chairs on the gym floor, knees touching, Scantron test forms balanced on their laps. The students had 10 seconds after the announcer read a question to talk to one other and mark an answer. Up to two right answers could be counted for each team.

As announcer and former KTLA news anchor Emmett Miller read the answers after each question, the proctors sitting with each team raised signs to show how many of the students had correct answers, and the crowd erupted in cheers and whoops.

"May I beseech you, please, to keep your voices down," Miller said at one point.

Sometimes it was so loud even during the questions that students from Cleveland Charter High School used sign language to tell each other which answer letter to choose, team captain Mariana Castellanos said.

A number of competitors were also athletes, but some students and parents said Saturday's crowd outdid the fans at their games.

"It was very exciting, yeah, it's kind of like a sport," said Melania Gomez, whose son Jorge competed for Bell High School.

Granada Hills Charter High School, the defending national decathlon champions, unofficially won the L.A. Unified Super Quiz with a perfect score of 72. Some say Saturday's quiz is a good indication of who will place in the overall competition, even though it's a relatively small portion of the entire score.

The winners of the competition will be announced officially Friday, and teams with the highest overall scores will advance to the statewide competition.

The decathlon consists of seven multiple-choice tests plus three "subjective" tests — a speech, interview and essay — and finally the Super Quiz.

Every year the decathlon has a theme running through the subjects — art, economics, literature, math, music, science and social science. Super Quiz asks questions in all those areas except math.

Last year's theme was energy; this year's is India.

Joshua Silva and Jordan Silva (no relation), both seniors at West Adams Preparatory High School, said they didn't know much about India before they started studying over the summer. Joshua knows the colonial history of the country, but became more familiar with spicy foods at the decathlon lunch practices, which happened often, he said.

Students at other schools said they learned the music — not just the Bollywood songs known to some Americans, but classical music whose patterns they had to learn for the tests.

sonali.kohli@latimes.com

Twitter: @Sonali_Kohli

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 07, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Super Quiz a battle royal - Academic decathletes across L.A. Unified put their knowledge to the ultimate test. This year's theme: India." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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