Reporting from Charlotte, N.C. -- For weeks leading up to the national Academic Decathlon, two teams — from California and Texas — have been sizing each other up from afar, rekindling a rivalry nearly as old as the competition itself.
Each team has something to prove: Granada Hills Charter High School wants to maintain California's winning streak for the ninth consecutive year; Dobie High School, on the outskirts of Houston, wants to show that Texas, dormant as a frontrunner since 2000, is ready to be a contender again.
On Friday, Dobie upped the ante when it narrowly beat Granada Hills in the Super Quiz, the only public portion of the intense, two-day competition. (They'll find out who won overall here Saturday.)
The pressure has been on since the recent state-level competitions, when Dobie won in Texas with a score only 300 points lower than Granada Hills' winning score in California. In a competition where good teams score more than 50,000 points, that kind of margin is akin to, according to one description, a football game with a score of 20 to 20.4.
The teams have analyzed each other's results and attempted to nail down their weaknesses. Students have even figured out who their closest competitor on the other team is. (Eddie Núñes, a C student at Dobie, for instance, says Granada Hills' Elysia Eastty is his direct rival.)
Granada Hills had the advantage in math and social science; Dobie has typically performed better in the subjective areas, particularly the essay portion, and does well in language and literature. (Granada Hills also has the handicap of time: team members could study long into the night and on weekends and holidays; in Texas, state rules limit students to eight hours a week for an extracurricular activity.)
The teams have been keeping a firm eye on each other here. Coaches from Granada Hills were asking people who had been around the testing room if the Dobie kids looked tense after finishing the tests. (If they did, that would be a good sign.) Jeremy Morris, from Dobie, said that each time he stumbled over a question he couldn't help but think about his opponents. "I bet the guy from California got that one," he said he told himself.
The rest of the decathlon community is watching California versus Texas as well. Students from other states acknowledged that the competition would probably boil down to those two states, and said the tension between the two teams was evident in the testing room.
And online, Academic Decathlon message boards were abuzz about how close Texas has gotten to California this year. (One former competitor, a math student at Duke University, figured the probability: California, according to his calculations, has an almost 57% chance of winning; Texas, 43%.)
This competition has been pivotal for the Texas team as it tries to reboot its state's legacy as a major player in the decathlon after a decade without a national win.
Since the national competition began in 1982, the title has ping-ponged between the two states. Wisconsin, with a 2002 win, is the only state besides California (17 wins) and Texas (11) to take the title.
As testing continued Friday, both teams were confident in what Saturday's results would reveal. "We've all put in so many hours, our hearts, our souls, our social lives," said Harsimar Dhanoa, a Granada Hills senior, "and I'm sure it will pay off."
Celina Ta, a sophomore who is Granada Hills' youngest team member, added that she was grateful for the competition — it's keeping the group on its toes. "I'm almost happy they are doing so well," she said. "It keeps it interesting."
Winning the national competition would be a first for Granada Hills. Dobie, which is in the Pasadena Independent School District, has won twice before, in 1992 and 1996. (The coach, Steven Higginbotham, was a member of the school's 1995 team, which took second place at the state competition.)
"It's always the feeling I should've done more," Ed Gonzalez, a senior from Dobie, said after waking up from a catnap before a long night of studying. "I'm confident we did well, but I'm not sure we did well enough."
But he was willing to make a bet in favor of his team. Competitors can order plaques with the portrait of their teams, commemorating the competition.
"If you win, it's a proud reminder of winning the national championship," he said. "If you lose, for the rest of your life you will be reminded of your failure."
He bought the plaque.