Quiz Whizzes : Foothill High Shaded by Beverly Hills, Marshall in Academic Decathlon

Times Staff Writer

The high school contestant nervously twisted her long strand of imitation pearls as she walked to her seat, then held them one by one as if they were prayer beads.

Another student stood in the bleacher sections after she had answered the questions put to her. She broke into sobs, disappointed at her score. Student teammates tried to console her.

A young man, who had just answered all the questions correctly, walked back to his team section, his hands raised Rocky-like and a grin on his face.

A large sign in the gymnasium at Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana read: "Welcome Super Quiz Stars."

The event Friday, somewhat like the old College Bowl television shows, was the final competition in the annual state Academic Decathlon.

Teams from 42 high schools from 40 of California's 58 counties took part. The reigning two-time champ, Beverly Hills High School, went into the final quiz as the front-runner, based on unofficial results from earlier in the day.

And Beverly Hills High apparently stayed out in front, despite tying 19-19 with Los Angeles Unified's Marshall High in the 30-question super quiz. Orange County's Foothill High School, of the Tustin Unified School District, finished second in the super quiz with 18 points, according to the unofficial results.

"My runners tell me that in the scores we know so far, we have an 800-point lead (in the overall competition)," said Jane Wortman, Beverly Hills High Academic Decathlon coach, at the end of the day. She said it felt good to be holding the apparent lead--and thus on the verge of a third consecutive state championship.

One of her students, Joe Waxman, 18, said that Beverly Hills felt particular pressure this year because "we've won the last two years. . . . I think they expect us to win at our school."

Friday's winners and runners-up will be announced at noon today at a state awards banquet in the Anaheim Marriott Hotel. "All the totals now are unofficial," one of the adult supervisors cautioned Friday.

But the super quiz, which was open to the public, was scored question by question, and viewers could see the apparent winners as the scores for each team mounted. Appearances, however, were deceiving: at the end of the super quiz, Los Angeles' Marshall High's scoreboard showed it with 20--the apparent victor over Beverly Hills, across the aisle, with 19 points.

It was only as the gymnasium was emptying of the several hundred high school and adult fans that a discrepancy became known. "The proctor (the adult who scored the team) made a mistake and gave our team one more point than we should have had," said Marshall High's coach Mary Sortino.

Orange County partisans in the bleachers cheered for the Foothill High team, which was neck-and-neck with the two front-runners from Los Angeles County throughout the super quiz.

"Aren't you proud to finish second in the state (in the super quiz)?" asked one Orange County adult of the Foothill team members. "Not if you wanted to be No. 1," responded Neal Mahutte, 16, of Tustin.

County Representatives

For the quiz, the 42 teams sat in front of signs indicating the counties in which they had won competitions. Los Angeles County, because of its population, was allowed three teams. The third, Brethren High of Paramount, represented private schools of Los Angeles County.

The topic of this year's super quiz was immigration. Questions were written by World Book Encyclopedia experts and flashed on an overhead screen in the college gymnasium. Students had two or three seconds to study the question and mark an answer from a multiple-choice.

One question asked who published the first foreign-language newspaper, the Philadelphia Zeitung, in 1732. Answer: Benjamin Franklin.

Another question: Which of the following colonies were not founded with religious freedom as a prime motivation--Massachusetts Bay, Pennsylvania, New Amsterdam, Maryland, Rhode Island? Answer: New Amsterdam (the early name for New York City).

Early Northern Lead

In the early questions, high schools from Northern California's Siskiyou and Stanislaus counties took the lead. But the teams from Beverly Hills, Los Angeles and Tustin Unified ultimately became the front-runners, with their scores neck and neck down to the 30th and last question.

"I don't know where they got some of those questions," said Mark Gabelsberg, 17, of Foothill High, at the end of the super quiz.

"The pressure was the worst part," said Fred Upton, 17, of Marshall High. "You're sitting right out there in front of everybody, and they know when you got it wrong."

The team officially crowned state champion today will represent California in the national Academic Decathlon April 3 at Loyola Marymount University campus in Los Angeles.

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