In a disappointing finish to an academic joy ride Sunday, the Taft High School Academic Decathlon team came in second to its Texas rival, J.J. Pearce High School.
But Taft's six-member team and two alternates did not walk away empty-handed. In the medal count, they won six gold, five silver--including one for Douglas Korengold as a top-scoring alternate--and seven bronze. Additionally, team members Jeremy Singer and David Raikow won a total of $5,000 in scholarships.
Taft ended the 10-event U.S. Academic Decathlon with 45,218 points. Pearce, of Richardson, Tex., posted 46,659. Tournament officials said the scores were among the highest totals in the six-year history of the national competition.
Their high, but losing, score was little consolation to the Taft team members, who came to the Texas competition from Woodland Hills with the goal of winning the second consecutive national title for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
"We had high expectations. We gave it our best shot," said Arthur Berchin, the quiet and intense Taft coach.
The Taft team also won the respect of the Pearce team and coach.
Taft was tremendous, said Pearce coach Linda Berger. "There's no doubt about it; they're awesome. The competition could have gone either way."
This is the fourth time that Pearce has captured the national crown. The suburban Dallas school won the competition three years in a row beginning in 1984. The school lost the Texas state competition in 1987 and did not participate in the national tournament. That year, Marshall High School of Silver Lake won.
Sunday's announcement of the winners came at a luncheon that ended two days of grueling test-taking for 39 teams representing 38 states and Northern Ireland. As winners in each category were called to the stage for the medal ceremony, it seemed as if a Taft student won an award each time a Pearce student won.
As the names of the overall team winners were announced, the Taft team held hands and waited. There were no smiles when they were summoned to the stage for the silver medals of second place.
The team remained grim throughout the photo sessions and media interviews following the awards ceremony.
"I guess this means we don't make Page 1," Jason Lowy said jokingly as he hoisted the second-place trophy over his head.
Despite their disappointment, members of the Taft team were good sports, congratulating winners from other squads and the Pearce team.
Still, parents who traveled with the Taft team had to coax their children to smile while they snapped pictures.
"They're very emotional right now," said Sheila Raikow, whose son, David, won a $3,000 scholarship for being one of the top scorers.
"But emotion is how they got this far," she added. "They were going to win. They expected nothing less."
It was an especially bittersweet moment for Singer. The Tarzana senior had pleaded to get on the team after he was left off the original roster. He went on to win eight medals in the city tournament, a gold in the state meet, four national medals and a $2,000 scholarship.
"I'd give up everything for team gold," he said.
In analyzing the tournament results, Berchin said the team did as well or better than he expected in the math, science, history, literature, economics, fine arts and Super Quiz parts of the competition.
The team did not do as well in the essay, speech and interview parts, he said.
"We lost in the subjective tests," team member Lillian Morris said, her voice cracking and her eyes swelling up with tears. "That's all I want to say; we lost in the subjective parts."
Taft also lost in its bid to have the results of the Super Quiz changed. At the end of Saturday's competition, Taft, along with four other teams, challenged the answer to a question about the history of aviation.
The teams interpreted the question, "Lindbergh is to the Atlantic Ocean as (blank) is to the Pacific Ocean," as seeking the name of the first pilot to fly solo across the body of water.
Researchers from the World Book Encyclopedia, who prepared all the decathlon questions and acted as tournament officials, ruled that the question sought the names of the aviators who piloted the first nonstop flight across the Pacific.
The correct answer is Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon.
Had Taft won the extra Super Quiz point, it would not have changed the overall outcome of the contest.
When team members arrive on campus today, they will be greeted with congratulatory banners that were draped across school buildings Friday. Administrators also have scheduled a morning rally.
Team members included Matthew Petach, David Hamburger, Morris, Singer, Raikow and Lowy. Korengold and Ari Lehavi were alternates.