Thursday, March 20, 2008

Three county schools compete in the Maryland science bowl

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Brenda Ahearn⁄The Gazette
New Hope Academy eighth-graders (from left) Raquel Ellis of Mitchellville, team captain Kaityly Townsend-Gray of Rockville and Crystal Evans of New Carrollton check over their hydrogen fuel car before the race in the Maryland Regional Middle School Science Bowl held at Ernest Everett Just Middle School on Saturday in Mitchellville.
Kenmoor Middle, the two-time defending champion from Landover, was unable to advance to the single elimination rounds in the 2008 Maryland Regional Middle School Science Bowl.

Takoma Park Middle School eighth-grader James Shepherdson thought winning would be impossible considering the school was making its first appearance in the competition.

But Shepherdson and his four teammates overcame the impossible Saturday at Ernest Everett Just Middle School in Mitchellville, dispatching Roland Park Middle 78-74 in the final round.

The Takoma Park team of Shepherdson, Kathryn Waychoff, Daniel Amir, Avikar Periwal and Charlie Pasternak now moves on to the National Middle School Science Bowl on June 19-22 in Golden, Colo.

‘‘We were just happy to be here, let alone win,” Shepherdson said. ‘‘I’m completely blown away we got this far. I’m so surprised and quite happy.”

Shepherdson credited a consistent diet of Trivial Pursuit with propelling the team to victory. In addition to the popular board game, the team also prepared by reading science textbooks, he said.

‘‘I’m ecstatic,” coach Rebecca Epling said. ‘‘I kind of figured we would come here this year and learn what we could and then bring back those skills we learned next year, but we wound up winning. I’m so proud of them.”

A total of 11 teams participated in this year’s competition, including three teams from East Pennsboro Middle School in Enola, Pa. and two from Roland Park in Baltimore.

The other four schools that sent teams to the competition were New Hope Academy in Landover Hills, Central Maryland Home Schoolers in Laurel, Indian Creek Middle School in Crownsville and Zion Christian Middle in Baltimore.

The science bowl, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, features head-to-head competition in a question-and-answer format. The questions come from seven categories including astronomy, biology, chemistry, earth science, general science, mathematics and physics.

The format is to have a ‘‘toss-up” question worth four points that a member from either team can buzz in and answer. If the team member answers the question successfully, the whole team gets a bonus question worth 10 points that they can all discuss and answer as a team.

The Kenmoor team of Eddie Kunkel, Patrick Healy and Brandon Ramchan were without two of their teammates Saturday.

The three were among six teams tied after three rounds of competition and were unable to advance past the tiebreaker round, where each of the six teams had to answer 10 short answer questions. The tiebreaker round followed three rounds of round-robin competition and served as seeding for the single elimination rounds.

‘‘They did very well considering the rest of the teams here all had all five of their players,” said Crystal Harkless, one of the team’s coaches.

Kenmoor beat Takoma Park 114-86 in the first round, lost to one of the East Pennsboro teams 76-72 in the second round and beat Zion Christian 104-4 in the third round.

Kunkel said the team prepared by reading all the science textbooks they could get their hands on and going over questions from competitions of previous years.

‘‘I thought our preparation really helped,” Kunkel said. ‘‘If we hadn’t practiced as much as we did, we would not have done as well.”

Kunkel said he noticed that the other teams seemed a little more motivated when facing his team.

‘‘Since we were first the last two years, I figured the other teams would be coming after us and they did,” Kunkel said. ‘‘We just came up a little short.”

Like Takoma Park, the New Hope Academy team of Hashim Muhammad, Crystal Evans, Paige Atchison, Raquel Ellis and Kaitlyn Townsend-Gray were making their first appearance.

The team lost to Indian Creek 86-50 in the first round, lost to one of the Roland Park teams 72-22 in the second round and beat one of the East Pennsboro teams 38-34 in the third round.

‘‘I think we did really well with it being only our first year and also having only studied less than ten days [for the competition],” Muhammad said.

Hashim’s mother Dolores Muhammad, the team’s coach, said a team from the Landover Hills school would be returning next year.

‘‘This has been enlightening and a lot of fun for me and the students,” she said.

E-mail Jonathan Stein at