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Alemany High Defends Its Academic Title

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Teams from Los Angeles and El Rancho high schools outsmarted nearly 120 other public high schools Saturday in the brain-teasing, synapse-burning Super Quiz portion of the Academic Decathlon.

El Camino Real High in Woodland Hills, which last year won the overall LAUSD decathlon and went on to capture the national title, was not among the top three finishers in the Super Quiz round. Last year, El Camino took second place in the Super Quiz.

The 18th annual contest, which was held in three highly charged showdowns throughout Los Angeles County, tested students’ knowledge of the human brain.

In the private-school competition, defending champion Alemany High School in Mission Hills took the overall decathlon title again, beating 20 private schools.

The Super Quiz portion of the decathlon--a fast-paced, team relay event--represented 50% of a team’s overall score and is the last round in the long road to the state championship, scheduled for Stockton in March, and ultimately to the U.S. Academic Decathlon, scheduled for Orange County in April.

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The Super Quiz results are often a good indication of who wins the entire contest. The public schools won’t learn the official results of the overall competition until Thursday.

For the second year in a row, Los Angeles High School, situated west of downtown Los Angeles, won bragging rights among schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. El Rancho in Pico Rivera got the top score among public schools outside the district.

Teams from LAUSD schools battled at Los Angeles Southwest College, while students from other public schools fought it out at Morningside High School in Inglewood. The private-schools contest was at Alemany.

The three contests had all the noise and excitement of a sports championship. The contests were held in gymnasiums where supporters yelled and cheered from the stands. But instead of testing their physical might, the nearly 1,200 students tested their knowledge of everything from REM sleep to transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Each school sent three teams: varsity, with a grade-point average of 2.99 or lower; the scholastic team, with a GPA between 3.0 and 3.74, and the honors team, with a GPA of 3.75 to 4.0.

The questions included such brain-busters as:

“How many lobes does the cerebrum have?” Answer: 10.

“Caffeine works to maintain alertness by blocking what?” Answer: Adenosine.

“The limbic system is required for what?” Answer: modulation of emotions.

Los Angeles High School, which over the past three years scored among the top three teams in the Super Quiz, bested 59 teams from the LAUSD, scoring 58 out of a possible 60 points, nudging out Belmont High School by eight points. Garfield High School came in third.

“We did it again this year, and I’m very happy,” said Los Angeles High senior Lucy Potiyevskaya, 17. “It’s the greatest feeling I have ever had.”

Several students acknowledged that the pressure was intense.

John F. Kennedy High School in Granada Hills tripled its score from last year even though the students only began studying for the competition in October because in they lacked a coach.

“I’m really happy that we came so far so fast,” said JFK senior Patricia Del Real, 17. “I was extremely nervous. I was about to pass out today. I’ve never felt so nervous about anything in my life.”

In the heat of the battle, Rodrigo Hernandez, a sophomore at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, lifted his shirt, revealing the words “GO BHS” painted in bright blue and orange on his chest.

“I want to support my school,” he said. “People have their signs and posters. I have my chest.”

Last year Burbank High School students, coaches and supporters wore matching Chinese robes with dragons emblazoned on the back. This year they wore toreador hats and ankle-length capes. “It makes it more lighthearted,” said Marchela Iahdjian, a Burbank High sophomore. “It’s getting into the spirit.”

Among private schools, Alemany won the Super Quiz portion with 26 out of a possible 30 points. St. Francis in La Canada Flintridge came in second with 22 points. The third-place honors were shared by three schools: Paraclete High in Lancaster, L.A. Baptist in North Hills and La Salle in Pasadena.

Alemany also won the overall decathlon competition with a score of 42,730 out of 60,000 possible points. St. Francis came in second with 41,660; Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School in Hollywood finished third with 32,485 points.

Alemany has won the top spot the past three years.

Nervous students said the contest was the culmination of months of arduous studying.

“I’m thinking I better get them all right, because I never put this much work into anything,” Chris Jones, 18, a St. Francis senior, said before the contest began.

This year the Super Quiz topic--the brain--seemed particularly apt for a gaggle of students who had spent the past five months stuffing their heads with information.

As the scores climbed, the teens’ shrieking and fist-pumping grew ever more frenzied. A few of the mind-benders were so arcane that even the announcer had trouble pronouncing words best suited for a chemistry textbook.

For Alemany senior Nikki Reyes, 18, the most memorable bit of brain trivia she learned was “that fish is good for your brain.” Something about the fatty acids, apparently.

Reyes, who does not like fish, skipped the seafood and instead ate a turkey sandwich before the competition.

In the showdown among public schools outside the district, a team from El Rancho beat 57 schools, scoring 48 out of a possible 60 points. Burbank and Palos Verdes high schools tied for second with 46 points each. West High School in Torrance, which won the Super Quiz portion last year, came in third with 45 points.

The students from the public schools outside the district took the quiz in classrooms earlier in the morning. The final answers and scores were announced publicly in the afternoon at the Morningside High School gymnasium.

Still, the gymnasium was buzzing with excitement as students learned whether their long months of studying had paid off.

Eric Gomez, a senior from El Rancho who competed for the first time, won a gold medal for earning a perfect score of 10 in one round. He was motivated, he said, by a desire to show up his older brother, an honor student who graduated two years earlier.

Times staff writer Hugo Martin and correspondent Sue Fox contributed to this story.


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