The Texans were confident of their grip on the championship. The Californians, tired of second place, hoped for an upset.
But it was not to be. At the fifth annual U.S. Academic Decathlon, a battle of high school brains, concentration and intellectual swiftness that unfolded this week at Loyola Marymount University, two-time national champion J. J. Pearce High School of Richardson, Tex., triumphed again, with Beverly Hills High School a close second for the third time in a row.
Pearce, located in an affluent suburb of Dallas, scored 46,435 points of a possible 60,000, while Beverly Hills amassed 45,418, contest officials announced at an awards banquet Friday. Third place went to Mentor High School of Mentor, Ohio, which finished with 41,692 points.
Tied for First in Super Quiz
However, Beverly Hills tied with Pearce for first place in the final and premier event, the Super Quiz, and Beverly Hills senior Aaron Barth, 17, won a gold medal for achieving the highest individual score in the A-student category. Each of 41 teams competing in the cerebral Olympics had two A, two B and two C students.
Founded in 1968 as the Orange County Academic Decathlon by Orange County Supt. of Schools Robert Peterson, the contest expanded statewide in 1979 and became a national event in 1982. This year 3,000 schools in 41 states competed on city, county and state levels. World Book Inc., a Chicago-based encyclopedia publisher, provided study guidelines and test materials.
The national finals at Loyola subjected 250 students to a daylong mental ordeal, testing their skills in essay writing and two public speaking events, as well as their knowledge of economics, fine arts, language and literature, mathematics, science and social science.
In the 90-minute Super Quiz, reminiscent of the old "College Bowl" television game show, 30 multiple-choice questions were flashed one by one on a screen. Each team member was given five questions and allowed six seconds to answer each one. The quiz this year focused on U.S. immigration history.
The only portion of the decathlon open to the public, the Super Quiz generated as much excitement as a basketball championship. A crowd that filled half of the Loyola gymnasium exploded every few minutes with hoots, cheers and shouts of encouragement. Contestants chomped on their nails, fiddled with buttons and ties and leaned forward in their seats every time a buzzer sounded the end of the six-second answer period, awaiting the score that would signal either agony or triumph for their respective teams.
Slow Start in First Round
The Beverly Hills team got off to a slow start in the first round, stumped by questions such as No. 1, which asked, "What immigrant group contributed to education in the United States by its strong support of physical education, early childhood education and vocational training?" Their Texas rivals knew it was the Germans, as did a few other teams that took an early lead.
By the second round, the Californians caught up with their chief rival, but Utah, Delaware, Arizona and North Carolina were ahead. In the third round, however, the California and Texas teams passed them and ran neck-and-neck to the finish, each supplying 23 correct answers. Arizona's University High School and Rhode Island's Toll Gate High School tied for second place with 21 correct answers, while Iowa's Denison Community High School came in third with 20.
The Pearce-Beverly Hills rivalry was friendly throughout. Pearce's Steven Tagtmeier said the Californians were a "very talented" crew. And Beverly Hills' Lisa Bittmann, who won one of several medals earned by her team for high individual scores, said the Texans were "the sweetest people I've ever met."