Gig Harbor resident Ben Gregory and Keyan Gootkin of Port Orchard are preparing to pack their bags to travel with their team to compete in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl in Corvallis, Oregon on April 20-23.
That’s because on Feb. 25 at the University of Washington Fishery Sciences Building in Seattle, the two local students helped their team snag a well-deserved win in the 20th annual Washington State Orca Bowl competition by edging out the Friday Harbor team by two points.
Each year, high school students from across the state of Washington come together for a day of competition and enrichment experiences at Orca Bowl, Washington’s regional competition of the National Ocean Sciences Bowl. Washington Sea Grant partners with UW’s College of the Environment to offer the program.
Orca Bowl challenges and recognizes Washington state’s high school students’ knowledge of the world’s oceans. During the daylong competition, hosted at the University of Washington Seattle campus, teams compete in a round-robin tournament followed by a double elimination round. Students tackle questions in all areas of marine studies, including ocean-related physics, chemistry, geology, biology, social sciences and technology.
It was the first ever Orca Bowl win for the Science and Math Institute (SAMi) team.
The spirited competition was exciting from the start, and the SAMi team came prepared for the battle.
Educator Cathleen McConnell, a member of the conservation engagement department at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, worked with the team to help it gear up for the event.
“I met with the kids periodically and helped them with the questions. There are articles the kids can read covering every topic from history, chemistry, physics and biology,” she said.
McConnell and teacher Matt Lonsdale practiced with the team using the buzzers and going over the rules.
“There are very strict rules and if there is a multiple choice question, it is a toss up so either team can buzz in,” said McConnell.
Because of its preparation, the SAMi team felt prepared for the competition, but it was a close call in the last minutes of the contest.
“It came down to the last question, which was pretty nerve racking,” Gregory said.
Gregory, a junior at SAMi, said he and other team members poured over as many as 700 terms to prepare for the Orca Bowl, which consisted of two six-minute halves.
“It was just like the Super Bowl,” he said.
Kirsten Gregory, Ben’s mother, is extremely proud of her son.
“He has always been very interested in math and science, and when he got to SAMi, he got more interested in the marine sciences,” she said.
Gootkin is a senior and has been participating in the competition since he was a freshman.
“It was super fun,” he said. “We really didn’t think we had much of a chance — we astonished ourselves. Suddenly we were at the finals and we continued to surprise ourselves,” he said.
Gootkin’s pathway is environmental sciences, specifically oceanography. His plans are to focus in majoring in physics, astronomy and astro physics. He acknowledged he is a very competitive person, and enjoyed the practice sessions.
The partnership SAMi has with Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium affords the students a wealth of opportunities
Since 2009 SAMi has been situated at Point Defiance Park, a location that allows students access to beaches, woods, the zoo and Fort Nisqually as extended classrooms. In addition to science and math, SAMi’s 460 students take classes in the humanities and the arts.
Lonsdale said he loves teaching the students and feels confident the students are well prepared to move on to college.
“It is a great job and a really amazing school. It is a wonderful place to be and teach,” he said.
McConnell said team members have great sportsmanship and are extremely impressive.
“Our group worked hard but went in with the attitude it would be great to win, but we just want to be there,” she said.
The SAMi team was very excited with its win.
“They went with reasonable but not lofty expectations so they were so pleased to win. They wanted to do their best and saw it as a competition that they were glad to be part of. They went in with humility and hoped to do really well. And they did,” said McConnell.