Never has the name Vladimir Lenin drawn so much applause in Kern County. Cheers thundered inside the Bakersfield High School gym Saturday afternoon once the mediator of the county's Academic Decathlon announced the answer to this question:
"Who returned from exile in Finland to lead the revolutionaries?"
Most if not all of the 20 high school varsity teams gathered from across the county responded correctly. At that moment, Lenin's Marxist politics mattered to no one (although, truth be told, two squads' T-shirts did feature the hammer and sickle).
For months the teams had pored over Russian social studies in hopes of advancing to the state finals next month. Not just social studies, either: Russian economics, literature, art, science and music filled their minds in classes, clubs and weekend cram sessions. Mathematics was part of the competition as well, but it did not follow this year's Russian theme.
Saturday afternoon's quiz show-type finale capped a competition that included speeches, interviews and essays.
"They've worked really hard," said the county's Academic Decathlon coordinator, Cathie Morris.
Last year the competition's theme was the Age of Imperialism, and Bakersfield High won the county title, with Stockdale High joining at the state competition as runner-up.
This year, Stockdale took top honors, followed by Bakersfield High.
"So happy. So happy," said Stockdale senior Joseph Fanous, 12 category medals hanging around his neck -- three more than he picked up last year. "Been waiting for this all year."
Teammate Georgieanna Escobedo, a junior, hardly knew what to say.
"I was so nervous this entire day," said the winner of five medals this year. "I didn't know if I could make it or not."
After so much time spent studying Russia, Fanous had a single comment about the world's largest nation:
"Russia's a really depressing country, to be honest."