Quiz Win Boosts Moorpark Students

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 only makes up 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 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 like math, economics and art -- were held behind closed doors Friday and early Saturday.

During the occasionally rowdy 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 were given seven seconds to write in their answers on a test form. Proctors then hoisted signs indicating how many of the contestants answered the questions correctly.

The event's public nature puts pressure on the participants to perform well, even though the number of points at stake is relatively small, 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."

The Moorpark High fans, wearing forest-green, button-down shirts and waving green and yellow pompoms, took up a quarter of the gym's bleacher seats.

Most of the decathletes wore 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 -- a firefighter's helmet and a propeller hat.

The student teams have been studying for months, and they didn't slow down after arriving in Modesto. On Saturday afternoon, after returning from their speeches and interviews, Moorpark team members had barely shucked their suit coats before flopping onto a couch in Jones' hotel room and opening their books.

"If I can just pick up one fact, that could make the difference between ending the year here or moving on," said senior Adam Abed. "I want to do well for the team."

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 most teams had conceded that the Ventura County school would likely be the state's representative at the national competition next month in Erie, Pa.

For the past 10 years under head coach Jones, Moorpark has built a reputation around the state and nation as a decathlon powerhouse.

The school has made it to the state-level competition eight times since 1993, and has come in either first or second for the past six years. Moorpark won its first national title in 1999, and came in second last year to Waukesha West High School in Waukesha, Wis.

Los Angeles High coach Jim Hatem said the scores from the rest of the test mean 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."


Times staff writer Jenifer Ragland contributed to this report.

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