Academic Decathlon

The citywide academic decathlon Super Quiz took place Saturday at the Roybal Learning Center in downtown L.A. (Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times / February 1, 2014)

Hundreds of students paraded into a gymnasium on Saturday afternoon at USC's Galen Center, their friends and families cheering from the bleachers as ragtime music played.

The Super Quiz, the final event in the Los Angeles County Academic Decathlon, was about to start.

The game show-style competition requires teams of nine high school students to answer three dozen multiple-choice questions on subjects including art, economics and science. Questions were read by Fox 11 news reporter Gigi Graciette, and students had just seven seconds to punch in their answers on hand-held electronic devices. The results were displayed instantly on two large screens in front of the players.

In sessions held over two Saturdays, students delivered speeches, performed interviews, wrote essays and took multiple-choice tests. The theme of this year's competition: World War I.

Each decathlon team includes students with A, B and C grade-point averages.

The Super Quiz counts for only about 5% of a team's score, but it's the most high-pressure event and the only portion of the 10-subject scholastic competition that is open to the public. It's also an indicator of which squads have a shot at advancing to the state competition in Sacramento next month or the national competition in Honolulu in April.

At Galen Center, about 500 decathletes from 42 public high schools around Los Angeles County answered questions about early gramophones, the Ernest Hemingway novel "The Sun Also Rises," polygenic inheritance and the Treaty of Versailles.

"That seven seconds is a lot of pressure," said Hiral Ashani, a 13-year-old freshman at Burbank High School. "Your team is counting on you, and there's no one to help you out, so it's really nerve-wracking."

Ashani and his teammates dressed in World War I aviator outfits, complete with leather helmets and goggles. Others squads wore personalized cardigans, T-shirts or Army fatigues.

Patricia Campos was in the bleachers cheering on her son Nicholas, a senior at Edgewood High School in West Covina. She said her son's team held 24-hour study sessions on weekends and added more hours on weekdays in addition to doing their regular homework. "They stay until 10 or 11 o'clock at night just to prepare for this," she said.

It paid off, at least with the Super Quiz. Edgewood High tied with Redondo Union High School for first place at Saturday's showdown, according to preliminary results. Results for the full competition, administered by the county Office of Education, will be announced on Feb. 12.

Another 500 or so students from 59 teams in the Los Angeles Unified School District capped off their Academic Decathlon with the Super Quiz at Roybal Learning Center, near downtown. Some of the top-scoring teams were El Camino Real Charter High School and John Marshall High School, according to unofficial results.

L.A. Unified's Academic Decathlon program boasts some of the best teams in the country. Granada Hills Charter High School has won the national championship the last three years.

Full results for Los Angeles Unified teams will be released Friday.

tony.barboza@latimes.com