The ocean is vast, and so is the number of bright young students who know an awful lot about it.
But only the biggest fish make it to the national level of the Ocean Sciences Bowl, and a team from Raleigh Charter High School not only made it there – they came back with the second-place title.
At the national competition, held in Baltimore in April, teams from 25 high schools put their knowledge to the test with fast-paced questions and answers, team worksheets and a presentation offering analysis of a current marine policy bill.
The secret to the team’s success is really no secret at all. There was a lot of studying, fueled by a passion for the subject.
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Before school, after school, and during lunch, the team sat down to drill on ocean science questions, consulting the Internet, textbooks, and materials prepared by their coach, Raleigh Charter High biology teacher Whit Hames. They took first place in a regional competition, qualifying them for nationals with about two months to prepare.
Even when the studying got intense, the team stuck with it. They’re in it for the thrill of competition, but the preparation wasn’t so bad, either.
“I think all of us just really like the buzzer questions,” said team captain Jonathan Tseng of Cary, a junior at Raleigh Charter High. “It’s pretty exciting when you get to buzz in and you know stuff. Our practices are fun, too, because it’s just a group of friends studying together.”
Jonathan joined the team after meeting a friend who had participated, and he ended up sticking around. His teammate, Ben Whitfield of Holly Springs, was drawn to the Ocean Sciences Bowl team by his love of science, and oceans in particular.
“One of the things that kept me interested was biology,” said Ben, also a junior. “I had enjoyed studying animals when I was younger, especially in middle school, so I carried over a lot of that passion, and also a lot of that knowledge.”
There’s nothing like a shared passion to bring people together, and the team found time to make friends amid all that competition in Baltimore.
“During the matches it was definitely really intense,” said Jonathan, “but between matches and when we weren’t playing matches, everybody was really friendly. All the teams would get together and play card games and stuff. So it was definitely really fun.”
In the end, Jonathan, Ben, and their teammates Dan Qu, Benjamin Hames, and alternate Jonathan Cookmeyer, held on for second place at nationals.
“Everybody was pleasantly surprised, probably an understatement,” Jonathan said, adding that the team was “really pumped.”
But Ben admitted to feeling a smidge of disappointment.
“Ironically, just after the match I felt kind of down, just because we had come so close to winning the entire competition,” he said. “It wasn’t until about an hour or two later that it really sunk in that I had won second place at a national competition.”
Now the team can rest a bit and savor success. The prize from nationals is a weeklong trip to Gulfport, Miss., where the team will visit a research station and help tag sharks and study dolphins with a college-level research program.
You can bet the team members, all underclassmen who plan to stick with the team next year, will be taking notes, filing away what they learn for use in next year’s round of competition.
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