Moorpark High Hopes Super Quiz Win Is a Good Omen for Decathlon Outcome

Times Staff Writer

Cheered by 100 hometown fans and an air-horn-blasting Musketeer mascot, Moorpark High School's Academic Decathlon team won the statewide Super Quiz on Saturday, beating out 49 other schools.

The victory comes a day before officials will announce the winner of the California Academic Decathlon. Although the Super Quiz involves only 4% of the total decathlon score, the defending state champion's performance gave the team hope that it will win again today.

"It makes us feel really good, since last year we placed sixth in this part," said team member Nathaniel Jones, a senior. "We're breathing a little easier, but we still have to wait and see how we did overall before we really start celebrating."

Los Angeles High placed a close second with 53 points, one point lower than the Ventura County high school. Those scores were the only ones released.

The Saturday afternoon event, held at Johansen High School, is the only part of the competition open to the public. The other contests -- essay, speech, interview and tests in subjects such as math, economics and art -- were held behind closed doors Friday and early Saturday.

During the occasionally rowdy, college-bowl-style Super Quiz, the 50 teams took the floor, three students at a time by their academic standing as an A, B or C student. Questions on this year's topic, oceanography, were read aloud and students had seven seconds to write their answers. Proctors then hoisted signs indicating how many of the contestants answered the questions correctly, triggering cheers or groans from the audience.

The event's public nature puts pressure on the students to perform well, even though the amount of points at stake is relatively nominal, said Moorpark coach Larry Jones, Nathaniel's father.

"If they miss a question on the economics test, no one knows," he said. "But everyone can tell right away how you do at the Super Quiz, and the kids feel that stress. They want to do well in front of the home folks."

Most of the students wore the suits and dresses from their interviews for the event, but others put a little flair into their apparel with matching T-shirts or special decathlon jackets.

San Pedro High's team wore Hawaiian shirts, and two boys from Mountain Oaks High in Calaveras County sported funky headwear: one a firefighter's helmet, and the other a propeller hat.

Moorpark came to Modesto with the country's highest score at the regional competitions held about six weeks ago. Its 49,693-point tally was 3,000 points higher than second-seeded Taft High of Woodland Hills.

Coming into the contest so far ahead meant that most teams had conceded that the Ventura County school would probably be the state's representative at the national competition next month in Erie, Pa.

Los Angeles High coach Jim Hatem said the scores from the rest of the test meant more than the Super Quiz.

"It's like nothing. It's a drop in the bucket," he said. "But because it's public, people make a big deal if you don't come out on top."

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