Science Bowl Team Continues Winning Tradition
When it comes to science, a high school team proved that lightning can strike not just twice, but five times.
On January 20, the Marshfield High School Science Bowl Team won the Department of Energy Science Bowl Regional Competition held in Milwaukee for the fifth time, and will head to the National Competition in Washington D.C. at the end of April. The last time the team won regionals was in 2011, according to coach and retired science teacher Paul Herder, who founded the team in the early 2000s and recently helped develop some Middle School science teams as well. Assistant Coach is science teacher Dean McFarlane.
During the competition, a team of four and one alternate member answer quiz bowl-type questions. The fast-paced questions cover a range of topics, including chemistry, physics, biology, Earth science, math, and of course, energy.
From April 26-30, the team will join sixty-five high school teams from around the country in Washington D.C. While there, they will have the opportunity to tour monuments and museums, and possibly meet state representatives or a senator at the senate offices. Once, they were able to meet with Dave Obey, Herder said.
Three of the team members will also compete in the upcoming Lake Sturgeon Ocean Bowl regional at UW-Milwaukee the first weekend of February. This is a separate but similar competition which covers oceanography subjects.
“The nice thing about oceanography is that it’s a fusion of all of the branches of science,” said team captain Suhaas Bhat, a junior. “There’s chemistry, physics, a little mathematics–everything melds.”
Despite being landlocked, Marshfield’s Ocean Bowl team has won this smaller regional competition fourteen out of sixteen times and were runner-ups at nationals the last two years, taking third three years ago. They have won first place at nationals a total of four times, the last in 2012.
Winning these competitions isn’t possible without hard work, and Herder partially credits the school system for the team’s success. “Marshfield has a pretty good student body, and our school district is very strong in the sciences,” he said. “I think our successes are a testament to the quality of education that our students receive here.”
The rest comes down to the students, who meet once or twice a week for two hours and practice answering questions with buzzers, all outside their normal schoolwork.
Team members study the basics on their own. “We have a textbook called the Garrison, which everyone skims through and gets their building blocks of the physical and chemistry elements of ocean science,” explained team member Nikita Gonugunta, a junior who has been in the club since freshman year and qualified for a team this year. To get on a team that has an open spot, potential members go through a rigorous process that leads up to a final two-part test with written and buzzer portions.
After getting the building blocks of the topic, they then study 300-level textbooks for updated information. Since the competition questions are sorted by topic, each member has a specialty that they study. Gonugunta’s is marine biology, so she’s learning about ecology and the anatomy of fish and sharks.
Reading textbooks is no problem, she said, since biology is a topic that interests her. “I think everyone on the national team is really passionate about what they specialize in,” Gonugunta added.
Science Bowl team member Tara Bhat, a freshman, also specialized in biology and read textbooks on animals and the body systems. “There are a lot of questions that cover nitty gritty details, so it was important to remember very small details instead of main concepts,” she said. A first-time member of Science Bowl, she’s excited to be heading to D.C on the national team this year.
But reading textbooks is only part of the preparation. As a longtime coach, Herder has compiled thousands of questions for use in practice, and the teams work on developing their reaction times.
“Everyone knows the basics,” explained Abidi. “At a certain point it’s about beating everyone else to the buzzer.”
If the team wins the Ocean Bowl regionals, they will head to Boulder, Colorado for the national competition just before the D.C nationals. The team will meet nearly every day in the week leading up to the competition.
“We work really hard to get where we are. Even in ocean bowl, which you think is just oceanography, there’s a lot of physics and chemistry and biology involved. It’s really broad in terms of knowledge,” said Gonugunta.
However, the process is rewarding. “It may be a lot of work at times, but it’s definitely worth it,” she said.