Favored El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills placed second to a strong Orange County team Saturday in the public portion of the high-stakes, even higher-tension Super Quiz competition at the California Academic Decathlon.
The victory establishes Laguna Hills High School as a leading contender to win the entire tournament today, when point totals from all 10 events are tallied and announced at an awards ceremony.
"We didn't see them coming," said El Camino's Matthew Backes. "We're worried about them, but we still think we have a chance of winning the entire event."
The Super Quiz was the final and arguably most intense event in the tournament. The first half consisted of a multiple-choice test, the scores of which were not announced. But the part everyone was waiting for was the public portion of the quiz, a rowdy event in which students answer questions in a "College Bowl"-type setting while teachers and parents cheer them on.
Backes, who racked up nine out of 10 possible answers in the quiz, joined the rest of his teammates in expressing "cautious confidence" that they can still win it all and earn the right to compete for the national championship in Atlanta next month.
El Camino's team spirit was captured on the teammates' blue satin baseball jackets, which were embroidered with a quote from Winston Churchill: "Victory however long and hard the road may be!"
The other San Fernando Valley team, Alemany High School in Mission Hills, failed to place in the top five. It was the first time that Alemany, which won the private schools Academic Decathlon in November, had competed in the state event.
"It could have gone better, but it's about what I anticipated," said Alicia Nieves, an Alemany senior. "I'm just relieved it's over."
This year's Super Quiz topic, the United Nations, tested the students' knowledge of international affairs. The list of 30 questions included: On which country did the United Nations expend more than 50% of its peacekeeping funds last year? Whom is the affirmative-action program in China intended to benefit? And, who unified Yugoslavia from 1945 to 1980?
Although two El Camino students, Eldar Brodski and Justin Weaver, garnered perfect scores for their team, Laguna Hills bested all 41 competitors. It was the first time that the two-time state champion had won the Super Quiz. Going in, El Camino was favored because of the team's record of success in past Super Quiz competitions.
"It feels good to be on the winning side," said Andrew Ting of Laguna Hills. "We studied a lot for this and it paid off. We have excellent prospects for the awards ceremony tomorrow."
Beverly Hills High School, which was also viewed as a strong contender, was declared the fifth-place winner in the event.
"We would have liked to have been perfect," said John Borsum, the Beverly Hills coach. "But I'm pleased with my students. I know they worked really hard."
As the students poured onto the stage to begin the competition, the crowd cheered wildly, some waving signs of support for El Camino. After the answer to each question was read, the crowd screamed or moaned in sympathy.
Some students used body language to express themselves. Alemany's Katie Noyes, the only member of her team to score a perfect 10, waved her fist in circles after each of the answers was read.
"I knew most of the answers," Katie said. "But the ones I didn't know I just went with my first instinct."
Arabella David of El Camino appeared visibly shaken after failing to get a perfect score. As she walked off the stage, two of her team members embraced her.
"When you're up there you put a lot of pressure on yourself," Arabella said later. "I was just worried."