Chris Hotaling said he knew the answer halfway through the moderator's question: Who was King Priam's surviving son after the Trojan War?

Priam had 50 children, but to Hotaling, a 13-year-old classics scholar from Alexandria, the answer was easy: Helenus.

And with that, Virginia's contingent walked away with top honors this weekend at the 34th annual National Junior Classical League convention.

Veni, vidi, vici.

About 1,500 high school students from 38 states interrupted their summer vacations to attend this year's weeklong convention at Stetson University in Deland, Fla.

Virginia's team of 180 students took first place in two levels of certamen -- in which students are quizzed orally about Latin grammar and Greek and Roman history, culture and mythology -- and second place in the third, more advanced level, league officials said.

The team also scored the most points in the written contests, according to one of the team's sponsors, Hugh Himwich, who teaches Latin at Alexandria's St. Stephen's Episcopal Day School for Boys.

"My students studied very hard during the summer, and it really paid off for them," said Himwich, proudly noting that they won first place in the certamen (pronounced kur-TOE-mun) for first-year Latin students.

Himwich and his 18 young scholars were met with applause, hugs and bright balloons at Alexandria's Amtrak station yesterday afternoon at the conclusion of their overnight trip home from Florida.

Hotaling, a straight-A student at St. Stephen's, said he and his colleagues studied three to four hours a day this summer to prepare for the national convention.

He said the most exciting time was the certamen contest, which challenges students' ability to recall quickly in an "It's Academic"-type setting. Recalling the question about King Priam's surviving son, Hotaling said the moderator "didn't get the whole word out," but that when he heard " 'sur,' I ran over all the possibilities it could be in my mind, and decided I thought the word was survived.

"I could feel my heart bumping up against the table."

Jumping to conclusions is a common and important factor when competing at the national level of an academic competition, Himwich said.

"The kids study a great deal," he said. "They are very knowledgeable. In certain areas, they know more than we do. These are really bright kids, some of the brightest kids in the country."

Virginia's team comprised students from more than two dozen high schools, including W.T. Woodson, Paul VI and Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

The tension in the air at the national event was palpable, Himwich said, likening the rivalry between the three heavy hitters of Latin -- Virginia, Tennessee and Texas -- to some schools' football rivalries.

Students spent weeks studying Latin derivatives, vocabulary and grammar; some memorized lines to compete in oratory contests.

Jayen Desai, 15, who attends St. Stephen's, spoke modestly of his success -- he scored better on eight of 12 written academic tests than any other third-year Latin competitor at the convention. Test subjects included mythology, Roman culture, history and Latin vocabulary.

"It was kind of a surprise for all of us," Desai said.

Ben Allen, a 16-year-old student at Thomas Jefferson, shared that view.

Allen beat out every competitor at the convention in his knowledge of Roman history, an interest he said he developed in the fifth grade.

"I didn't expect to win," he said. "I thought I'd be sort of good, but not win."