DALLAS TWP. — It was so hectic in Atlanta, the Dallas High School LifeSmarts team had trouble remembering how many rounds they went through on the way to third place in the national competition.
“It was three days,” Decklan Cerza said.
“And six competitions to get to the semifinals,” Samuel Reinert chirped in. Both numbers drew quick comments from the three other team members. After hasty deliberations, Cerza gave a more concrete answer. “It was four days and eight competitions to the quarterfinals.”
Such quick reasoning through collaboration is a big chunk of why Cerza, Reinert, Sara Hudak, Amber Habib and Gates Palissery have come so close to a national title two years in a row. LifeSmarts bills itself as “the ultimate consumer challenge,” from The National Consumers League, designed to develop “the consumer and marketplace skills of teenagers.”
From the way this team tells it, the competition is rigorous, rapid and nearly relentless, especially as you approach the top, when it’s do or die in “the buzzer rounds.”
“It’s really nerve-wracking,” Habib said.
“”You have to be fast enough to answer without hearing the whole question,” Palissery said.
In fact, the team that beat them in the quarterfinals won with an educated guess, Reinert said. “The last question the other team got was ‘this eating disorder is characterized by — ‘, and that’s all you heard before they buzzed in.”
The answer was anorexia, Palissery said. But it could have been bulimia or something more obscure. And if you guess wrong, the other team already knows one incorrect answer, gets to hear the whole question and gets a little time to think.
The competitions on the way to those tense buzzer rounds ranged from written tests in specific categories — Palissery took first in consumer rights and responsibilities this year — computer tests and “speed dating.” “You go to different tables and there is an expert in some subject,” Palissery explained.
There’s an added element to many of the competitions: The judges might have a sheet of acceptable answers in front of them, but they are allowed some discretion. In one “speed-dating” case, Palissery said, they gave answers about consumer credit to an expert from Experian who said they didn’t give the official answers, but the answers were still right, so they got the points.
For Palissery, this was the end of her LifeSmarts competing days. She graduates this month. The others are juniors already looking forward to next year’s run for the nationals.
“We have a practice meeting this afternoon,” Cerza said.
“We meet every Friday,” Habib added, “And Wednesday … and sometimes Monday.”
The third-place finish garnered each member a $500 scholarship and some bonuses such as an Amazon.com gift certificate. And no, they weren’t bummed about missing the finals. “I was just so glad we didn’t do any worse than last year,” Habib said.
“And we actually scored a lot more points than last year,” Cerza added. “So even though it looks like we didn’t do any better place-wise, we actually did do better … a lot better.”
None of the five has solid plans for post-high school. Palissery is leaning toward biology and psychology, Cerza is considering computer science, Hudak may go into business, Habib is leaning toward chemical or civil engineering, and Reinert …
Well, as he put it, “Ideally I want to study everything.”
Sounds like LifeSmarts was a good way to start.