RALEIGH — When her team won Saturday, Melissa Core was in tears.
“It was a lot of dedication on the part of these kids, that’s why,” she said.
Core is an N.C. State graduate, but the team she meant is the Science Bowl squad she coaches at Haut Gap Middle School of Johns Island, S.C., which won the regional competition held this weekend at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.
“I can’t believe it,” said eighth-grader Sarah Hunter, a member of the Haut Gap team that topped 13 other middle-school teams from North Carolina and South Carolina for a place in next month’s national competition in Washington, D.C. Charlotte’s Victory Christian Center team was runner-up and is the regional alternate for the national finals.
“It was exciting,” said Liz Smith of Raleigh, whose son, Luke, was on the St. Raphael’s Catholic School team that finished in third place. Science Bowl gave him an opportunity to meet some of his peers, she said, and “encouraged him to think about his future in science.”
Science Bowl is an annual contest sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. Student teams face off in quiz show-style competitions, winning points by being the first to correctly answer a question in science or mathematics. “Some of them I didn’t even know,” Core said. “They’re like AP biology, chemistry and physics questions.”
Schools enter by registering and paying a $125 fee per team. A school may enter up to three teams, which consist of five players – one an alternate – and a faculty-member coach. Besides the “academic event,” teams compete to design, build and race miniature cars powered by lithium batteries.
Call it a comeback?
This was the second year teams from the Carolinas have entered the Science Bowl, following several years’ hiatus, said Kennan Goodman of Charlotte, the competition’s regional coordinator and a former coach for middle-school Science Bowl teams.
“I had enjoyed the programs that the previous coordinators had put forth; they were such an awesome experience,” Goodman said. “It’s awesome.”
For Haut Gap, getting to Raleigh was something of a rush job. Core said she learned of the Science Bowl about three months ago by an email invitation to schools in the two states.
“I have so many amazing students that love science,” she said. “I thought this would be a perfect opportunity for them to get involved and get the experience of competing where they could have their science and math skills tested.”
Haut Gap is a Title 1 public school in a “very rural, farming community” near Charleston, Core said, and entering the Science Bowl was a first for the school.
With encouragement from Principal Travis Benintendo, Core established a school science club and started its members preparing – taking time from their elective courses and staying late after school.
A busy schedule
“We did put a lot of effort into it,” said seventh-grader Benjamin Davey. “We were also doing (the) electric-car race, and we had a trebuchet contest that our science club was doing, so it was pretty hard to balance our schedule.”
The club also had to raise $3,000 on its own to send three teams for a weekend in Raleigh.
It staged fundraisers of its own, and one person donated $750 that was matched by Kiawah Cares, a Charleston-area nonprofit.
“It was tiring, it was exhausting and I thought I was going to drop dead,” Sarah Hunter said. “But when I got here, I was so excited.”
Sarah said she likes science because “there are all these mysteries of life and there’s always more to learn.
“I love going real in depth and researching, and just finding new things out and trying different things for different problems.”
Her current problem, she said, is trying to figure out why her team’s battery car ran five seconds slower in Raleigh than it had in trials beforehand.
“It was kind of bewildering,” she said. “I’m trying to figure out what the heck happened.”