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ALEMANY WINS QUIZ; EL CAMINO TAKES SECOND.

Byline: David R. Baker Daily News Staff Writer

Two San Fernando Valley high school teams seized the top spots in Saturday's Super Quiz at the state Academic Decathlon, beating 48 other teams from across California.

Alemany High School of Mission Hills placed first in the two-hour test, which grilled students on their knowledge of the brain.

Decathlon powerhouse El Camino Real High School, last year's national champion, came in second, while their Ventura County rival, Moorpark High School, tied for seventh.

Hugging her Alemany teammates, a beaming Gemma Cacho of Sylmar said the months of grueling study had finally paid off.

``The (answers) I knew just popped into my head,'' said Cacho, 18, looking pleasantly amazed. ``I didn't have to think about it at all.''

The Super Quiz results announced Saturday were only preliminary and could change, since two questions were disqualified after the test and a third remained under review. Nor does the Super Quiz champion necessarily win the entire three-day event, since Saturday's contest counts for just 5 percent of the final score.

Still, Alemany and El Camino students said the quiz boosted their hopes of taking the state title when results are announced this morning. Not that anyone wanted to get smug just yet.

``I'm more confident now than I was last night,'' said Kamil Nagji, 18, of El Camino. ``I know we've got a good shot. Whether or not we do it is another thing.''

The Super Quiz capped two days of intense testing at the University of the Pacific and was the only part of the decathlon open to the public. Parents and friends, many of whom had made the long road trip from Los Angeles that morning, filled one side of the school's basketball arena, sitting behind the students to eliminate cheating possibilities.

In groups of three from each school, students listened as Quiz Master Lisa Breckenridge read multiple-choice questions about the brain. Contestants had seven seconds for each question before proctors swooped in with blue pencils to mark the answers right or wrong. The proctors then held aloft signs showing how many students from each school answered correctly before moving on to the next question.

The questions ran from anatomy to chemistry to psychology, much of it delivered in a choking barrage of medical jargon.

The crowd, including family, friends and coaches who had spent months helping contestants study, murmured guesses for each question and screamed like soccer fans when they saw how their teams fared. Was the brain's main source of energy oxygen? Glucose? Serotonin?

``The correct answer is glucose,'' Breckenridge said.

The crowd erupted.

``Baby, yes!''

``Yo-LO!

``I love you, San Joaquin!''

``It's very stressful, but exciting too,'' said Pragna Chakravarti, whose 17-year-old daughter, Meeta, had just finished her round of questions for El Camino. ``It's a rewarding experience for us, but I give the credit to them, because there's a lot of sacrifices they make. They miss a lot of movies.''

``I can't play with her because she's studying all the time,'' said Meeta's 8-year-old sister, Debi, adding, ``I'm going to be on the decathlon team for 11th and 12th grade.''

To add to the stress, students had already spent part of the day delivering short, prepared speeches, one by one, to panels of judges in rooms scattered across campus.

Moorpark coach Larry Jones noted that one of the judges was a former El Camino team member and questioned the propriety of including him. But Judy Combs, the decathlon's executive director, said the former team member was not allowed to judge El Camino.

Each student faced the same on-the-spot speech challenge: Keep it between three minutes 30 seconds and four minutes. Try not to stutter.

The judges also gave each student a choice of topics and told them to compose a second speech on the spot. One minute to prepare, two to talk.

While most of decathlon events test raw knowledge, the speeches demand polish. Not an easy thing when you're midway through two days of bruising tests.

``It's like the Olympics - one mistake can kill you,'' she said. ``I said `um' once and stuttered once.''

The team then began singing ``Another One Bites the Dust.'' They knew all the words.

CAPTION(S):

photo

PHOTO Kamil Nagji of El Camino Real High School ponders the answer to a question Saturday during the state Academic Decathlon's Super Quiz in Stockton. Alemany High won.

Steve Yeater/Associated Press
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 14, 1999
Words:736
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