The Sport of Science
Brain power earns students medals
Students’ knowledge of anatomy, astronomy, chemistry and more were tested Saturday during a competition at Atkins Academic and Technology High School.
The regional Science Olympiad tournament attracted more than 200 middle and high school students from local schools and throughout the Piedmont Triad.
While some components of the competition required students to merely answer written questions, other events were more hands-on. Judges gauged how well students launched bottle rockets, flung gliders and built contraptions.
Like sports Olympians, who often spend years training for events, the student competitors, who mostly compete in pairs, pick categories in which they are strongest and spend months studying and preparing. The results of the students or student-pairs also help their school earn points. Science Olympiad Regional Director Carole Browne, a Wake Forest biology professor, said contests of the mind are just as competitive as those of the body.
“I had daughters who played soccer and there’s that competitive spirit when you play a sport, and these kids have that same competitive spirit when they are playing science,” she said. “They get the same medals and trophies as they do for sports activities.”
The first Science Olympiad was held in 1974 at St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, where students from 15 North and South Carolina schools competed. Other states started to follow suit and eventually Science Olympiad became a national competition in 1984.
As the host site, Atkins was extended a unique opportunity. Browne said most Science Olympiad competitions are hosted at colleges. Atkins, a school with a science, technology, engineering and mathematics focus, provided ample facilities to stage the various Olympiad events, Brown said.
Sixteen school teams from eight counties competed in 46 events. The massive event required 40 volunteers, most from Wake Forest.
The “home team,” 17 members-strong, fared well, placing in more than a dozen events and winning second place overall in the tournament. It was Atkins’ third time competing in the Science Olympiad. Atkins Biotech Coordinator Terry Howerton pursued bringing the event to Atkins after a team from the school took part in an Olympiad in Greensboro. He succeeded and Atkins hosted its first Olympiad last year, when the Atkins team came in second and earned a trip to the state finals. Howerton said the trip to the finals motivated and inspired his kids.
“It was fun watching them come back talking about next year, (saying) ‘Here’s what we’re going to do,’” said Howerton, who praised the competition for giving students a fun, in-depth way to learn science.
Atkins’ strong finish Saturday means that the team will again head to the state finals in April.
Atkins sophomores Margaret Bertoni and J’son Hughes, Science Olympiad veterans, are on their school’s team. They earned two individual medals each. One of their wins was in the Boomilever event. Anchored on one end to a wall and outfitted with a chain and bucket on the other end, a boomilever is a vertical device designed to withstand the force of heavy objects. Bertoni and Hughes’ Boomilever broke after holding 16-kilograms of sand, earning them a third-place finish.
Bertoni, who is in Atkins’ pre-engineering school, said she enjoys the competition.
“It’s very high energy and (helps with) teamwork skills and organization,” she said.
Hughes, who is in the biotech school, said he thought it was great to get medals and trophies for science.
“It helps promote the fact that science is just as good, or in my case, better than sports because you can keep it all through life,” said Hughes.
The other top overall high school teams were Davie County (first) and East Forsyth (third). The winning Middle School teams were: North Davie County (first), Millennium Charter Academy of Mt. Airy (second) and Piney Grove of Lawsonville (third).