Before Evan Park, 14, could give an interview, his father needed to speak with him.
Time was tight and Ed Park wanted to get in a quick pep talk, so he ushered his son toward a darkened classroom.
The first of three qualifying rounds for the National History Bee's Los Angeles regional championship had just ended, and only a few minutes remained before the next round would begin.
Evan, a Harbor Day student, had reviewed the study guide to prepare, working on it ever since he qualified for the bee five weeks ago, and had studied with his dad, a history buff.
While Evan's peers had participated in geography bees before, this year marked the first time that students from the Newport Beach private school were in the running in the history bee, which is only in its fourth year.
The eighth-grader was one of the four highest scorers on a 16-question written test taken by the fifth-graders and middle schoolers at Harbor Day, which hosted the regional championship Monday night.
After taking the written test, Evan and the other three students each passed an online test, said Jon Grogan, a Harbor Day history teacher who served as the point person for the bee.
Grogan had opened his room to the academic quartet for studying in their free time and was thrilled with their enthusiasm for the competition.
"This event can springboard history," he said. "I'm so proud of them."
Playing By New Rules
The regional championship rounds involved neither pen nor paper. Instead, the young historians — 42 in all — faced a fast-paced competition during which they answered by first hitting a buzzer.
They hailed from a vast swath of California, representing schools like Desert Ridge Academy in Indio, Linfield Christian School in Temecula, and New West Charter School in Los Angeles.
Others traveled from San Diego, while still more came from Hesperia — representing 37 regions in all. Participation in the bee has grown 25% from last year.
The participants broke down into five groups of eight or nine for each preliminary competition round.
Clad in button-down shirts, sweat shirts and school uniforms, they sat at desks arranged in a semicircle, facing an official competition proctor.
Before them were small buttons that they were instructed to press if they knew the answer to the questions that would be read to them.
"It was surprising at first," Evan remarked about how quickly the students buzzed in.
But his father had felt confident that his son knew the answers.
"I'm going to try to telepathically give him some clues now," Ed said, laughing.
The proctor for Evan's second round began to read through descriptions of terms, one by one. The students buzzed in as soon as they felt ready to venture a guess, sometimes after only a few phrases had been offered.
They knew the man who came to power by the deposing of King Idris (Muammar Gaddafi), the lawyer appointed to replace Tom Clark as a Supreme Court justice (Thurgood Marshall), and the film that changed from sepia to Technicolor ("The Wizard of Oz").
Little time was allowed for stalling.
"Ummm," one student muttered when called upon.
"Do you have an answer?" the proctor asked.
"Ummm," the student continued.
"That's time, I'm sorry," the proctor replied, returning to her list of questions.
Nuri Ozer, a student at Pacific Technology School Santa Ana, which is located in Costa Mesa, answered the individual maximum of eight questions correctly in an individual round after only 15 questions had been asked. Having a maximum gives everyone in a group a chance at getting points.
"Relax," Robyn Shev, the mom of a New West Charter student, said to Nuri's teacher, Okan Cakir, who sat next to her at the back of the room.
Nuri, the only student wearing a blazer, scooted his chair back from the desk, allowing other students to take their shots.
Nuri, 13, would go on to win the overall regional championship, answering four questions correctly after only eight had been called in the final round played on a stage in the school's gym.
The only girl in Evan's second-round room, Harbor Day student Jean Wanlass, 11, would qualify for the elementary regional championship, much to her surprise.
When the moderator read her name, she leaped to the stage and jumped up and down while placing a hand over her smiling mouth.
"I am still in shock," said the fifth-grader. "And my head's still kind of hurting from my brother's celebratory noogies."
Evan qualified for the national championships, scheduled to be held this summer in Atlanta.