By Delilah Brumer, Correspondent
After thousands of pages of reading and a year of tireless preparation, 16-year-old Rovie Romarate arrived at the Los Angeles Unified School District academic decathlon “Super Quiz” in early February near downtown Los Angeles, ready and eager to compete. Her confidence came from her understanding that regardless of the results, she had already won.
“My goal was to make my family proud,” said Romarate, a junior at Lake Balboa College Preparatory Magnet. “The thing is, I already completed that goal. This morning, my mom was like ‘I’m very proud of you. When I was younger I didn’t get to do this and you don’t know how impressive you are.’”
Romarate and her eight teammates represented Lake Balboa Prep, a Title I school in the San Fernando Valley, at the Feb. 4 Super Quiz at the Edward R. Roybal Learning Center in Westlake. They faced off against more than 600 other high school students from across LAUSD.
Fifty schools sent three teams of three students to compete in fast-paced trivia based on “The American Revolution and the New Nation.” Per academic decathlon policies, each school’s trios were split into Varsity (3.199 Grade Point Average and below), Scholastic (3.2 to 3.799 GPA) and Honors (3.8 GPA and above).
“It means a lot [that they’re here],” Lake Balboa Prep Principal Robert Clarke said. “It’s a lot of work and pressure. They represent our school for the Lake Balboa community.”
Lake Balboa Prep Team Captain Karen Martinez (right) points at a green card during the Honors round of the Feb. 4, 2023 academic decathlon “Super Quiz.” (Photo by Delillah Brummer, Contributing photographer)
Lake Balboa College Prep Coach Carrie Wan and her academic decathlon team watch their Varsity teammates compete in the “Super Quiz” on Feb. 4, 2023. (Photo by Delillah Brummer, Contributing photographer)
Lake Balboa Prep senior Alexa Barahona decides on an answer during the Varsity round of the academic decathlon “Super Quiz” on Feb. 4, 2023. (Photo by Delillah Brummer, Contributing photographer)
The Lake Balboa College Preparatory Magnet academic decathlon team holds their banner after the “Super Quiz” on Feb. 4, 2023. Front row: sophomore Jessica Tlatenchi-Conteras (left), Coach Carrie Wan (center), Captain Karen Martinez (right). Middle row: senior Alexa Barahona (left), junior Giuliana Barrondo (center), junior Rovie Romarate (right). Back row: junior Erik Saakyan (left), junior Arturo Pelaez (center), junior Erika Rodriguez-Rivera (center), senior Tanya Foyez (right). (Photo by Delillah Brummer, Contributing photographer)
The dozens of teams entered the Edward R. Roybal Learning Center gym to cheering families and clicking camera shutters. Lake Balboa Prep’s team walked in carrying their team banner as they beamed with nervous excitement.
Next, several LAUSD officials spoke to the crowd. “This is the Academy Awards of brilliant young people,” said LAUSD Board Vice President Scott Schmerelson, who represents the board district that includes Lake Balboa Prep. “I’m so proud that you all worked as a team.”
After the speeches, the varsity teams went to the front of the gym. As questions were read out, each team quickly selected their answers — on iPads. After each correct answer was announced, the teams who got it right shot up a bright green card to signal their success, to a roaring crowd.
“Walking up there, I heard cheers and screaming,” said sophomore Jessica Tlatenchi-Conteras, a member of the Lake Balboa Prep Varsity team and a first-year competitor. “My ears went fuzzy for a second. As soon as I was reassured by my judge, I felt better and I knew that there were people there cheering for me.”
Despite initially getting a few answers incorrect, the Lake Balboa Prep Varsity team pushed through and displayed their green card several times. Next came the Scholastic teams. After high-fiving their Varsity teammates, Lake Balboa Prep’s Scholastic team went up and competed, at one point getting a streak of four answers correct in a row.
“[Competing has] helped me improve my social skills, connection with other people and leadership skills and expanded my horizons and my intelligence,” said Lake Balboa Prep Scholastic team member Arturo Pelaez, who has participated for three years.
The last round of the “Super Quiz” was for the honors teams, those with a 3.8 GPA or above. The Lake Balboa Prep team sporadically sent up green cards. While she knew her team hadn’t done well enough to place in the top three, Lake Balboa Prep Team Captain Karen Martinez said she was immensely proud of their efforts.
“We were all really nervous,” said Martinez, a senior who has competed in academic decathlon and its middle school equivalent for five years. “It was really fun. My voice is a little hoarse from all the yelling and hyping my teammates up.”
Once all three team levels competed, tentative results were announced. The top three teams will now enter the state competition.
Tying for first place were Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies, and Verdugo Hills High School in Tujunga, each with 30,000 points. Second was Science Academy STEM Magnet in North Hollywood racking up 27,000 points. With 26,000 points, Abraham Lincoln High School in Lincoln Heights, and Bell High School in Bell tied for third place.
Lake Balboa Prep ended with a tally of 18,000 points, near the middle of the pack. Although the results slightly dampened their mood, the Lake Balboa Prep team said they left feeling accomplished and exhausted from a long day of competition.
“It’s really amazing to show them that I believe in [them],” Lake Balboa Prep coach Carrie Wan said. “They start realizing that they can believe in themselves. It’s like going on a journey with them.”
For the graduating seniors on the team, the academic decathlon provided preparation for their futures and connections they said they’d never forget.
“I’m a little sad that I’m going to leave [academic decathlon] and my school,” said Martinez, who will be a first-generation college student from her family. “But I know for college, this information will come back to me. So I feel more knowledgeable.”
Coach Wan said it’s time for her to review with the middle school students, who she also coaches, and to encourage the underclassmen on the team to compete again next year.
Romarate looks forward to her last year on the team. “At the end, when I was walking back, I realized there’s a lot of people with me,” Romarate said. “Seeing my teammates behind me, I didn’t feel as scared. Even if we got things wrong, as long as we were having fun it was a good experience.”