Bright minds and trigger fingers helped science students from Helena High School take first place Saturday for the third year in a row at the regional Science Bowl, advancing to the national competition in Washington, D.C., in April.
The team defended its 2012 title against 28 teams from 17 high schools during the 21st annual Big Sky Regional Science Bowl held at the Crowne Plaza. The school has claimed the title four times in five years.
A second team of Helena High students competed in a head-to-head competition in the final round against Helena’s Team A for second place.
The science bowl is an academic tournament that challenges students’ knowledge of math and science in a fast-paced quiz competition in Billings each year. Students tested their expertise in chemistry, physics, biology, math, energy and earth and space science.
The first place team of five students will compete against 77 other regional champions at the Department of Energy’s National Science Bowl. The all expenses paid trip includes sightseeing and educational visits to museums and monuments in Washington, D.C.
The team's members are Mark Sargent, Bridger Howell, Katie Chamberlain, Thomas Culver and Joe Whitney.
The regional tournament’s format is a round-robin during the morning with the high-scoring teams advancing to a double-elimination competition in the afternoon.
To win, a team must work together to quickly and accurately answer toss-up and bonus questions in a head-to-head competition while following the strict rules of play.
The Helena team said they have been practicing every lunch period since the beginning of the year, and they continue to do so in preparation for nationals.
“These guys have a caring attitude and demonstrate a synergistic effort to learn,” Jerry McCarthy, Helena science teacher, said. “They’ve blown off their lunch period for the last 110 days at school to hang out in my room to learn science. They have some of the top science minds in Helena, and in the state, for that matter.”
Helena senior Katie Chamberlain said the final match between the two Helena teams was the most exciting bout of the entire competition.
“It was just like practicing in the lunchroom, except we knew that each team would get trophies at the end,” Chamberlain said.
The team said their high school shop class is building a trophy case for the team to showcase its years of trophies and plaques.
Students from Fergus County High School also took home a trophy for third place.
“Fergus is our long-standing science rival,” Helena senior Thomas Culver said. “So, we were excited to compete against them during the final round.”
All competitors receive a Big Sky Regional Science Bowl t-shirt and have the opportunity to meet business professionals and other students with interests similar to their own.
Central High School students placed fourth.
Sunetta Ellwein, Central science bowl coach and math teacher, has been coaching academic competitions for about 15 years. As for the Science Bowl, she said that the competition was more challenging this year than in years past.
Ellwein’s students met once a week during their lunch hour preparing for the competition with their own buzzer system like those used in the actual competition.
She said she believes the competition helps build self-confidence and is a way to demonstrate aptitude in science and math, subjects she says her students are passionate about.
“The categories are in fields they love,” Ellwein said. “The kids are all signed up for AP and honor classes focused on higher education that pertains specifically to their areas of expertise.”
Ellwein added that the competition helps prepare the students for college and real life.
Central senior Nathan Heldt said the competition helps students apply knowledge they’ve learned throughout their high school career.
“We’ve been learning the subjects pretty much our whole lives in the Catholic schools,” Heldt said. “We were pretty prepared and our knowledge is spread out.”
On Friday, students from 15 middle schools challenged each other in the Montana Middle School Science Bowl in a Jeopardy-style contest, also held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Saturday, participants competed in a race with lithium ion battery model cars they engineered.
Will James Middle School won the car competition for the 12th straight year. They also took first place in the academic competition.
Heldt was one of the judges for the middle school competition. He said some of the questions middle-schoolers were asked stumped him.
“There is a lot of opportunity to learn at these competitions,” Heldt said. “You’re dealing with a lot of different subjects. In some instances, it became a game of who could make the best educated guess."