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Monday, April 15, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Flexing their brain muscles serious sport to decathletes

The Associated Press

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PHOENIX — A hard-fought but indecisive victory, complaints about scoring and a breathless high-court drama. These elements of the latest presidential campaign and the Winter Olympics have worked their way into the annual high-school battle of the brains.

This year's U.S. Academic Decathlon championship began with controversy when two Texas teams claimed victory in the state contest and went to court to decide who should advance.

But for the first time in the decathlon's 20-year history, the national team title wasn't won by a school from Texas or California.

On Saturday, the Waukesha West High School team from Waukesha, Wis., won the annual challenge of the nation's brightest by scoring 48,871 out of a possible 60,000 points.

"It really feels like we're in the big time now," Waukesha's Stephen Moon, 15, said, smiling sheepishly as a throng of high-school girls in sparkly green wigs and face paint whooped and clapped during the competition.

"The academic decathlon has reached the level of a sport," he said. "People are now doing the same crazy things here that they do at football games."

The competition drew 55 teams from 38 states to answer questions in math, social science, music, language, literature, art and economics.

But it was the controversy between two Texas teams over which should go to the national championship that drew wide interest.

The dispute unfolded last month when Lubbock High School appeared to win the state decathlon. But J. Frank Dobie High School, from Pasadena, Texas, argued that scoring discrepancies cheated its team out of points.

Dobie took its case to a Houston judge, who ordered a rematch. The Lubbock school district then went to a local judge, who ruled in its favor.

When Lubbock didn't participate in the court-ordered rematch, the Houston judge ordered Dobie certified as the winner.

The Texas Supreme Court overruled that decision, allowing Lubbock to compete.

"It's been kind of surreal," said Lubbock team member Catherine Lee.

The decathlon's nine-member teams were judged individually and as teams on written tests, a written essay, a speech, interview and Friday night's Super Quiz, the crowning event that this year focused on the Internet.

Moorpark High School from Moorpark, Calif., placed second, while Chicago's Whitney M. Young High School finished third.

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