It was a nail biter, down to the wire and what competitor Emily Wexler described as nerve wracking. The clock had run out and the team from Shaker Senior High still had an opportunity to snatch victory away from Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake.
This isn’t a Hail Mary pass or a half-court shot at the buzzer, but rather the last moments of the regional competition that sent a small team of BH-BL students to the National Science Bowl.
An annual nationwide competition, the National Science Bowl gives 17,000 middle and high school students the opportunity to show off their knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, earth science, general science and math in a quest to outperform other teams.
This year, a five student team from BH-BL pulled off a last moment victory at the GE Research and Development Center in Niskayuna to secure an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C., to compete in the national competition. It was the first time the school has been represented at nationals in over a decade of participation in the program.
`It gives kids who are interested in science a chance to compete and study things that you really like,` said senior team member Wexler.
The team, composed of Wexler, senior Tom Martindale, junior Sam Wilson and senior Matt Wolf, spent May 1 to 6 in Washington, D.C., and were accompanied by their coach and BH-BL Chemistry teacher Brian Watts. The fifth member of the team, Douglas McErlean, stayed behind to take the SATs and participate in a regional crew match that weekend.
The science bowl is the only competition of this sort supported by a federal body — the Department of Energy. Teams of four to five face off in a Jeopardy-style matchup. Judges read off questions and team members buzz in. If they answer correctly, the entire team gets a chance to collaborate on a bonus question. The competitions are held in a round-robin format and BH-BL went six-and-one at the regional match, losing only to Shenendehowa before defeating Shaker 48-46 for the championship.
The road to the national competition wasn’t traversed overnight.
Watts began holding open practices in November.
`We have a lockout buzzer system very similar to the ones they have at the competition,` said Watts. `We practice and get a feel for who’s doing best, and then form our teams.`
Even with preparation, the actual event can be difficult.
`It’s almost impossible to study for a science bowl,` said Martindale. `They could ask almost anything.`
The team didn’t fare as well at the national competition, even though they lost a number of matches by only a slight margin (the team from Santa Monica, Calif., ultimately took home the title). Still, winning is definitely not the only part of the science bowl.
When asked what her favorite aspect of the competition was, Wexler said it was `meeting all the teams from across the country.`
`It’s not so much the competition that stands out in my mind,` said Martindale. `It would be getting to know the other teams and getting to see all the sights in Washington.`
For most of the team, this was their second experience with the science bowl, and for the three seniors it will be their last as contestants.
`I had a great time there, it was very much a worthwhile experience,` said Wexler. `I want to do it again, but I can’t.`
Watts is excited just to make it to the national level.
`You grow close to these kids and it’s wonderful to see them enjoy it,` said Watts. `Just getting a chance to go to nationals is a really big opportunity.“