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Students flex at Academic Decathlon QUIZ: Marshall takes top spot El Camino Real and Palisades tie for 2nd-place honors.

Byline: Brandon Lowrey brandon.lowrey@dailynews.com 818-713-3699 Staff Writer

The stadium erupted with screams and cheers Saturday as high school students and parents, armed with pompoms and video cameras, celebrated points scored.

The champions representing their schools concentrated - faces stoic and focused - under the eyes of hundreds of rabid fans. They didn't wear padding. They didn't clutch hockey sticks.

They wielded No. 2 pencils.

The Los Angeles Unified School District's grueling Academic Decathlon entered its most public, and arguably most stressful, phase Saturday night with the Super Quiz at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Each of the 64 competing schools sent in teams of three whiz kids to answer questions about Charles Darwin and biological evolution that left many parents scratching their heads.

Marshall High School, located in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, took the top honors at the Super Quiz. Marshall junior Alejandra Cardenas, a first-year competitor, was the only student to have scored perfectly on the Super Quiz.

"It was very hard to (study) but it paid off to have this sort of elated feeling," Cardenas said.

The top-scoring San Fernando Valley school, El Camino Real High School, tied for second place with defending champion Palisades High School.

"We were very excited to hear the news, but I'm sure we could do better," said Wenelia Baghoomian, a junior at El Camino.

She said the team would work hard to take the top spot at the statewide event.

North Hollywood High School took fourth place.

The competition was fierce, with about six teams scoring pretty close during a dry run, said event coordinator Cliff Ker.

"I expect it to be really close," he said before the quiz was finished.

The final results for all events will be announced Thursday at a ceremony at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Past winners of the grueling academic competition described epic study sessions that lasted from 2 p.m. to midnight, almost every day - including many weekends.

"We were twice accosted by the police because they felt we were intruders on campus at night," said Daniel Berdichevsky, 32.

Berdichevsky was the 1993-94 captain for Taft High School's team. That year, he set the record for the most points scored in the contest. His score stood unmatched until four students broke it last year.

He graduated from Stanford University and earned a post-graduate degree from Harvard University, then became a professional academic decathlete - he creates curricula and standards for academic decathlon programs throughout the country, and now is a board member for the California Academic Decathlon.

Taft, which traditionally performs well in the competition, was not represented this time around.

"I remember being sick to my stomach, telling my coaches, 'I'm gonna throw up, I'm gonna throw up, I'm gonna die!"' said former El Camino High School competitor Venus Vakhshori, 19, who now attends UCLA.

But the parents in the stands, who cheered like their kids just scored a touchdown at every correct answer, expressed nothing but pride for their children.

"I'm very impressed with my son," said Michael Epps, whose 17-year-old son Matthew was competing for Eagle Rock High School.

"It's like a football game or a basketball game. It's sold out. It's crazy."

Saturday was also the day for Los Angeles County schools to hold their Academic Decathlon, with Torrance High School winning the Super Quiz portion.

Torrance beat Alhambra High School, which took second with 45 points in the Super Quiz, held at USC's Galen Center.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 8, 2009
Words:579
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