Taft Students Whiz Through L.A. Academic Decathlon Quiz

Times Education Writer

There were moments of panic, angst and, in the end, utter ecstasy for nine students from Taft High School on Saturday when the San Fernando Valley school captured the Super Quiz championship in the Los Angeles school district’s seventh annual Academic Decathlon.

The quiz was the culminating event of the decathlon, a daylong battle of brains between 53 Los Angeles school district high schools that was held at Los Angeles Valley College in Van Nuys.

Student teams competed in 10 events, including examinations in six academic subjects--economics, mathematics, science, fine arts, social science and literature. Contestants also had to give a speech, write an essay and take part in an oral interview.

The Super Quiz is considered the premier event because it is the only portion of the competition open to the public. Modeled on the old “College Bowl” television show, the quiz focuses on a different topic each year, with the history of aviation as this year’s theme. Teams were given 10 seconds to answer each of 48 questions.


‘We Did It’

Taft, in Woodland Hills, garnered 34 out of a possible 48 points on the quiz. Two other Valley schools, El Camino Real and Canoga Park, tied for second place with 33 points each. Dorsey, a mid-city school that was a four-time past Super Quiz champ, and Garfield, in East Los Angeles, tied for third place with 32 points.

“We did it!” Taft team member Matt Petach, 17, yelled moments after the quiz ended. “Winning was worth missing AP (advanced placement) government and AP calculus and it was worth the 1,000 hours we spent studying.”

The questions required mastery of a dizzying range of material, including exact dates of historic flights, literary allusions to flight and the accomplishments of historic figures in aviation ranging from the well known to the obscure. Students were asked to know, for instance, that Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in a Bell X-1 aircraft--not in a Lockheed Tristar, a Bell X-15 or an SST.


Intensive Preparation

The Taft team prepared intensively for the decathlon beginning last summer when they met four evenings a week at school. Coach Arthur Berchin, an English teacher who has coached decathlon teams for three years, said the extra long preparation time was an experiment--the ultimate success of which will not be known until the complete decathlon results are released at an awards banquet Nov. 24 at the Bonaventure Hotel.

The Taft team members were Petach, Daniel Fink, Erika Hall, David Hamburger, Douglas Korengold, Jason Lowy, Lillian Morris, David Raikow and Jeremy Singer.

The winning team will go on to the state decathlon in Sacramento March 11-14.