Academic decathlon cancellation prompts confessions of a news quiz kid

The news that Placer County Office of Education was canceling its academic decathlon moved me to recall my own high school experience as a quiz kid.

Minneapolis-St. Paul’s KSTP-TV had a show called “High School Bowl.” It aired on Sundays at 10 a.m. At 13, it was my goal to get on that show, no matter what.

Back then, Mounds View High School was a state hockey powerhouse. It also had an excellent swim team, a fine basketball team and a well-meaning but pathetic football team that went 0-12.

For those of us who were not going to try out for or make those teams, there was “High School Bowl.”

The academic decathlon is actually better than a TV quiz program because it fields a team from a cross-section of students. There is a quiz aspect to it, but there are also essays, math problems and so on.

Only Roseville High School and Western Sierra Collegiate Academy were able to pull teams together. Roseville has done well in the past, and you could hear the sadness in the voice of Robbie Short, the senior who was captain of the Roseville team.

“It was very disappointing to see that county didn’t value us,” Short said.

Of course, the county probably values other marquee athletic events more, and that’s kind of the way it goes in real life, too. Ask UCLA officials the salary of the their football coach, then lightly inquire as to the salary of the chairman of the English Department.

When I got to high school, I not only made the KSTP-TV “High School Bowl” team, I was captain. I still have dreams about it. As I hit the buzzer, I can see my last name light up on an illuminated screen, and genial but businesslike host Roy Finden calls out:


In the dream, I sit for an eternity, struggling to recall the name of President Ulysses S. Grant’s first vice president, or maybe it was the only country in the world completely surrounded by another country.

Finden cuts me off before I can answer. I wake up in a cold sweat at age 54.

Oh, yeah. Schuyler Colfax and Lesotho.