AHS, TBJH Science Olympiad teams complete seasons

Courtesy Photo The 2023-24 Alpena High School Science Olympiad Team finished their season at the state competition recently.

ALPENA — The Alpena High School and Thunder Bay Junior High School Science Olympiad teams recently wrapped up their seasons. The AHS team made it to state competition.

Science Olympiad is a team competition where a group of 15 students compete in 23 events in all disciplines within STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). Each event is scored and students are placed based on how well they did. Their place contributes to an overall team score, and lowest score wins.

There are three types of events — study, build, hybrid. The study events involve students taking a test. Build events require students to construct devices that are tested at competition such as robots, catapults, bridges, towers, and airplanes. The third type, hybrid, is a bit more diverse in that it has a written test, but could also involve a lab or device construction to go along with it. For example, the event Forensics has a written portion where students identify the culprit of a crime, however, in the process they have to run tests on evidence, including identifying powders, liquids, metals, hairs, plastics, etc.

Science Olympiad originated in North Carolina in the 1970s. It spread to Delaware first, then came to Michigan in 1982 with the first competitions being held in Macomb County. After two years of competition and overwhelming success, Dr. Gerard J. Putz, Regional Science Consultant for Macomb County Intermediate School District in Michigan, convinced John C. Cairns, State Science Supervisor for the Delaware Department of Instruction, who originally brought the program to Michigan, at the request of Dr. Putz, to take the program national.

The first national tournament was held at Michigan State University in 1984. If you have heard any rumblings about a national event at MSU this Memorial Day weekend, that is the 40th Anniversary National Tournament being held at its founding location.

Courtesy Photo The 2023-24 Thunder Bay Junior High School Science Olympiad Team poses for a photo after a recent competition.

There has been a Science Olympiad team at Alpena High School, Thunder Bay Junior High, and some of the elementary schools for more than 20 years. Alpena High School is a consistent competitor at state competition and has qualified for the last 15 years. Coaches have included John Caplis and Melissa Doubek. Evelyn Petersen took up coaching the middle school team in 2019 and was recruited to coach the high school additionally in 2022 when Melissa Doubek retired.

The season lasts from the end of October through either regional competition in the beginning of March, which is held at Alpena Community College for our region or through the end of June if a team qualifies for state competition. Each year students work extremely hard on three to four events, but the most successful teams have mentors. Some are experts in their field, like Dr. Tina Rossi who has been tutoring in Anatomy and Physiology for 20 or more years. Others are parents that became experts when their children had those events and continue to work with students, like Kathleen Howard who coaches building events flight and towers/bridges/boomilever, who has also been mentoring 20 years. Or even just parents that get involved and help their kids learn how to study, to research, to take tests, and to problem solve.

Some districts that are more invested in the competition will begin their season with the school year or have it as a class students can take. This school yea, the region lines were redrawn so that all of the northern lower peninsula were in competition. With more competition, the region was able to send two teams to states. The Alpena team, although on a long streak of first place finishes at regions, came in second to Tawas this year by one point. Still with an invitation to states, the high school traveled to Kalamazoo to compete on Western Michigan University campus. Oliver Smith and Brenten Beaubien took fourth place in Towers, and Naomi Ratz and Eva Traylor took eighth place in Forensics.

While the middle school team did not make it to state competition, the students that took first place in their event received a “gold-bid” to compete as well. Sebastian Cummins and Evan Repke competed in Towers, Adam Florip and William Smith competed in Road Scholar, and Ainsley Nowak and Maddison Taylor competed in Write-It, Do-It.

Looking forward to next year, even though Science Olympiad is designated as a club, there is a lot involved in competition. In addition to a registration fee for regional and state competition, the high school team does an invitational to practice before regionals which involves travel expenses. Building events require materials and kits. Even study events have resources that can be purchased. In addition to monetary resources, the team needs mentors: experts from the community that are able to coach students in events. If you are interested, please contact Evelyn Petersen at TBJH.


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