A small but exuberant celebration hailed the return of the almost-conquering heroes of a Woodland Hills high school's academic decathlon team Sunday as they arrived home after a second-place finish in the national finals.
Supporters bearing balloons and flowers cheered, "You're our champions!" as the bus carrying the nine weary El Camino High students pulled into the school parking lot after an eight-hour drive from St. George, Utah.
As Jackie Moses hopped off the bus with the hefty second-place trophy, its crystal torch glistening on top, her friend Aurelia D'Antonio hugged her.
"I was crying on Friday," Aurelia told her. Friday was the day James E. Taylor High School of Katy, Texas edged out El Camino in the pivotal Super Quiz competition.
But team members weren't dwelling on the Texas team's record-setting 52,260 points, which surpassed El Camino's 49,520. In fact, they befriended the Texas scholars and "hung out with them until 4 in the morning," team member Adi Zarchi said. "We just had fun. No one wanted to talk about the competition once it was over."
Zarchi, carrying one of many boxes of study materials out of the bus, proclaimed that he was going to burn his notes in a bonfire. But as a junior, he might well be back in the competition next year.
"At first, I had thought I wasn't going to do it again next year, but then I saw the trophy. I thought, 'Maybe next year, we'll make things different,' " he said. "Maybe we won't be bringing home a second-place trophy."
Team member Steve Chae acknowledged, "My brain is frying right now, but I do feel smarter."
The other members are Michal Engelman, Robert Magee, Tamara Miller, Mike Montgomery, Roger Rees and Dawn Robinson.