DALLAS TWP. — Easiest question?
“How old do you have to be to vote,” Dallas High School senior Amber Habib said with little hesitation.
The five members of the state champion LifeSmarts team paused. “The pH of baking soda,” senior Decklan Cerza, team captain, suggested. But spend a few minutes with these academic whiz kids — heading to Florida for the four-day national championship April 26 — and you’ll know he’s the team clown.
“That wasn’t hard!” Amber insisted.
”I didn’t know it,” Decklan said with a laugh.
For the record, baking soda is on the alkaline side of the pH scale: 8.2.
If they seem a little easy-going about facing an event that bills itself as “the ultimate consumer challenge,” it may be because they’re hardened veterans. Decklan, Amber and teammates Samuel Reinert and Sara Hudak will be making their third consecutive appearance in the national competition. The school team finished third the last two years.
Sophomore Lauren Hudak may be the new kid on the team, but it’s obvious she fits right in as they banter about a contest that tests them in numerous ways, from individual online quizzes to head-to-head team “buzzer rounds.” Just mentioning the sessions of split-second decisions on a flurry of questions makes some team members visibly recoil.
“They are friends with one another,” team adviser Kevin West said. “It makes for a great time when they get together to practice three times a week.”
LifeSmarts questions come in five categories, and while all team members sop up everything they can during practice, they each specialize in one of the five: Personal finance, health and safety, the environment, technology and consumer rights and responsibilities.
This year’s finals will be held in Walt Disney World in Florida, which means the team gets to bookend their four days of competitive stress with visits to the happiest place on earth. First stop: Magic Kingdom, where they can, um, fly Dumbo and twirl in tea cups.
“That was my doing,” West admitted sheepishly.
But don’t let the consumer science obsession or the Disney sideshow fool you. These are bright students. All five were missing Advanced Placement classes for their interview, and eager to get back. They also are plotting out serious futures.
“Engineer,” Amber said.
“Something businessy,” Sara hedged, “probably Certified Public Accountant.”
It was chemical engineer for Decklan, psychiatrist for Lauren, and “We’ll figure it out” for Samuel, who confessed he has too many interests to narrow it down yet.
Now let’s get back to that toughest question. They contemplated. Maybe the definition of “smishing,” a variation on the email scam known as “phishing” but done through texting. Or “spimming,” sending spam through Instant Messaging.
“What is anisotropic filtering,” Decklan said, getting nods from the others.
So what is it?
“It’s used in 3-D graphics to make them look smoother.”
Bet you were thinking it had something to do with cleaning water.