Laguna Hills High School, which beat school teams throughout California to become California's academic champion, was awarded second place Sunday in the U.S. Academic Decathlon.
The Laguna Hills team, which earned its place in the finals by winning the California state championship last March, was bested in the two-day tournament of tests by the Texas state champions, who topped Laguna Hills by 592 points. The margin of victory for the Texas team was the near-equivalent of three correct answers on the final Super Quiz event held Saturday.
The team's finish was highlighted by several individual gold, bronze and silver medals awarded for individual performances. A total of $7,000 in scholarships was awarded to three team members whose individual cumulative scores were among the nine best out of 351 competitors.
"We're extremely proud of our guys," said a pleased yet disappointed Laguna Hills coach, Kathy Lane. "This will motivate us to come back next year."
Lane's sentiments were echoed by the team's other coach, Roger Gunderson, and about 30 Laguna Hills parents, relatives and administrators who flew to Des Moines for the national championships. But those on the nine-member squad took little solace in the second-place finish.
"We lost," mumbled senior Jeff DeWit, 17, moments after the team from Lake Highlands High School in the Dallas suburb of Richardson, Tex., was named America's top team.
The California champions amassed 46,035 points in the two-day competition, which tested knowledge and skills in math, economics, essay-writing, interviewing, language, literature, fine arts, science and social science, and ended with the Super Quiz, a head-to-head competition among the 39 competing teams. The Texas representatives scored 46,627 points. Tension gripped the ballroom of the Des Moines Marriott on Sunday in the moments before the winning teams were announced. Some members of the Laguna Hills squad shut their eyes, rubbed their hands and put their heads down on their table after the third-place winner, Arizona, was announced, and it became clear that the contest would come down to California and Texas.
Jeff McCombs, 18, a Laguna Hills senior and the team captain, said that the team eventually would feel honored in reaching second in the nation after months of intense competition at the county, state and finally national levels. But Sunday, all its members could focus on was the narrow margin of defeat.
"We've been fighting for this for so long, so it's a letdown right now," McCombs said. "But second place is awesome."
Laguna Hills was the first team from Orange County to make it to the finals since the Academic Decathlon went national nine years ago. The contest was begun 22 years ago by Orange County Supt. of Schools Robert Peterson.
The 1991 Academic Decathlon national championships will be held in Los Angeles.