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MISSION VIEJO : Student Is Surprised by His Win

He can tell you about the achievements of Mother Teresa and Mikhail Gorbachev and discuss estuaries and apartheid. But the freckled 12-year-old will also tell you that he hates writing essays and his handwriting merits only a B grade.

Despite his dislike for it, his writing, along with his math, science and literature, was good enough to make Brent Wagner of Castille Elementary School in Mission Viejo the highest-scoring student in his category at the Orange County 6th-Grade Academic Pentathlon in April.

He outscored 120 other students from 40 schools.

Not even his parents expected Brent to be the overall top scorer in the Scholastic division. “We knew we had a bright child,” said his mother, Susan, “but we thought he’d come in fourth or so.”

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Brent said: “I was surprised. I felt I did pretty good, but I didn’t know I did that good.”

The pentathlon, which is in its 10th year, took place at Estancia High School in Costa Mesa, showcasing the academic skills of about 360 students from 40 schools, divided into two regions. Each school sent students for the Honors (A average), Scholastic (B average) and Varsity (C average) divisions. The sixth-graders competed for points on both individual and team levels in various subjects. Brent scored 4,000 out of 5,000 possible points.

William Chan of Harry C. Fulton Middle School won the Honors division, and Oliver Ong won for Fairmont Private School in the Varsity Division. Fairmont, in Anaheim, placed first overall.

Castille Elementary, which placed sixth overall, had never had a top individual scorer before, said Amy Poss, Brent’s teacher.

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“I can’t say enough about him,” she said.

Students prepare for three months before the annual April competition with intense tutoring in math, science, literature and social studies before and after school.

“Children have come back years later and told us they still remember the experience with the pentathlon,” said Susan Wildenberg, a teacher at San Clemente’s Truman Benedict Elementary, which placed second overall. “It helps self-esteem and improves study habits because the kids are forced to focus intently for a long period of time.”

For Brent, whom teachers describe as modest, well-rounded and a good leader, the preparation meant giving up baseball and soccer practice and working harder on essay writing, which he said he dislikes enough that he almost didn’t join the pentathlon team.

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“It’s my weak spot,” he said. “My strong point was probably literature. No, wait, science.”

Would he relax over the summer after the grueling pentathlon? “No,” he said ruefully. “I’m going to have to study some more for my bar mitzvah.”


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