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Battle of the Brains Lands in Court

April 4, 2002

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LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) _ The question of who won the Texas Academic Decathlon has stumped some of the finest minds in the state.

Is it Lubbock High, which was declared the winner? Or is it Pasadena’s J. Frank Dobie High, which says there were scoring problems and wants a retest to determine who will represent Texas at next week’s national competition?

The battle of the brains is now in court.

``It’s blowing our minds, as you can imagine,″ said Shonna Distefano, coordinator of the Texas decathlon organization, a defendant in lawsuits filed by both schools. ``This pains me because we’re using this scholarship money that we normally give to students for litigation.″

Officials at Dobie High say they won the competition, in which nine-member teams match wits in such subjects as language, literature, art and economics on written tests, essays and quiz show-like oral exams. The winners get $1,200 apiece for college; second place is worth $800 each.

After the meet ended last month, Dobie High’s coach realized that one of student Kevin Ho’s score sheets was misplaced and had been excluded from his school’s final tally, which would have pushed his team into first place. Decathlon officials said the sheet was not turned in properly, meaning Lubbock High had won and Dobie High was second.

Dobie High took its case to court in Houston last week, with coach Richard Golenko arguing that Ho’s test should have been counted and that at least one other test was not tallied correctly. Questions also were raised about whether a score was missing for a Lubbock student.

Meanwhile, Ho’s score sheet was shredded as part of the decathlon association’s standard procedure.

A state judge found ``serious issues in the validity of the scores″ of both schools and ordered a rematch.

But two days later, the Lubbock school district went to court in Lubbock and was granted a temporary restraining order to keep the decathlon association from holding a rematch and certifying those results.

The Lubbock judge heard arguments Wednesday on whether to make his order permanent. He did not immediately issue an opinion.

``We’re not going to sit back and let someone take the championship from Lubbock because Lubbock’s team did not feel they did one thing wrong,″ Superintendent Jack Clemmons said. ``We’re going to fight to let the kids retain the championship.″

The Pasadena school district wants to fight, too. At its request, a judge in Orange County, Calif., ordered the U.S. Academic Decathlon to send an alternate version of the test to Texas for a potential rematch.

Executive Director Les Martisko said the new test will arrive Thursday.

He said the national organization takes no position on who should represent Texas at the national competition in Phoenix next week, whether the decision is made by the Texas organization or the courts.

``We’ll take whatever team on the competition day is there. And that’s as fair as we can get,″ he said.

The national group had told the Texas association there is not enough time to devise a new test for a rematch and that Lubbock has been certified as the winner.

Lubbock team members said they have many sympathizers.

``They say, `Congratulations and I’m sorry,‴ said team member Catherine Lee, a senior.

Some team members said they see parallels with the indecision of the 2000 presidential election and the figure skating controversy at the 2002 Winter Olympics, in which gold medals were awarded first to a Russian couple and then, after an outcry, to a Canadian pair.

``And we’re always compared to the Russians,″ Lee said.

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