Community scrambled to save Wyoming Regional Science Bowl

Wyoming Regional Science Bowl Champions Kelly Walsh Team 1: Alan Hatlestad, Ian Moffett, Gabe Miller, Zack Fullerton, and Alex Olson. Not pictured is their coach, Mark Hileman, a science teacher at Kelly Walsh High School. (Doug Tunison/WyoFile — click to view)
By Anne Theriault and Doug Tunison

On Saturday, February 23, Kelly Walsh High School Team 1 of Casper won first place at the Wyoming Regional Science Bowl. The competition took place at Frontier Middle School in Casper. Kelly Walsh High School Team 1 was among 13 teams from seven high schools around Wyoming.

Science Bowl is a fast-paced, question-and-answer contest in which students answer questions about math, earth, physical, life, and general sciences. Each team is made up of four students, a student alternate, and a teacher who serves as an advisor and coach. Kelly Walsh Team 1 is made up of Coach Mark Hileman, Alan Hatlestad, Ian Moffett, Gabe Miller, Zack Fullerton, and Alex Olson. The team advances to compete in the National Science Bowl in Washington DC, April 25–29.

Collaboration, knowledge and team building were all essential parts of a science bowl strategy. (Doug Tunison/WyoFile — click to view)

The event, held every year in Wyoming since 1999, almost died. Until this year, the event was hosted by the local office of The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), RMOTC. Because they are preparing to close the Casper office, DOE decided that they could no longer host the Wyoming Science Bowl.

Dismayed that this event might soon die, Casper high school teachers Mark Hileman and George Vlastos, a teacher at Star Lane Center in Casper, decided they would try to resurrect the event. Hileman observed that “American innovation is hatched in the minds of the youth. It is their creativity that fosters the newest and greatest of ideas. The Science Bowl and other school academic competitions that demonstrate student knowledge in math, science, history, debate and other areas are the best way for students to express their strengths that traditional academic assessments can never show.”

The competition, which takes place in February, usually takes four to six months to organize. By the time everyone was aware that DOE was not hosting the event this year, there was only two months left to come up with a plan. The original scheme was to put the science bowl on life support by hosting an informal event this year and planning for next year.

Participants enjoy the two minute break between their eight minute rounds during the 2013 WYRSB competition. (Doug Tunison/WyoFile — click to view)

The scale and scope of this year’s event grew quickly as planning progressed. The regional event must be sanctioned by the National Science Bowl to make the winning team eligible to compete in the national event. That requires at least six high schools to compete locally.

To meet the growing workload we — Doug Tunison, former RMOTC employee, and Anne Theriault, an employee of a contractor to RMOTC, and an experienced science bowler — decided to pitch in and find new funding. To get the funding, and improve the sustainability of the Wyoming Science Bowl, we incorporated Wyoming Regional Science Bowl as a non-profit organization with a mission to facilitate the Wyoming Regional Science Bowl and other science education activities.

The reasons for continuing Science Bowl through the formation of a non-profit are best expressed by the students participating in this year’s event.

“Science Bowl and competitions like it are important. They give kids a reason to learn more about science, get excited about it, to do it. Why should kids be interested in science? Because science is what drives the world,” said Ian Moffett, of Kelly Walsh Team 1.

Young minds hard at work, Kelly Walsh Team 1 making their way to the finals. (Doug Tunison/WyoFile — click to view)

Gabe Miller, also a member of Kelly Walsh Team 1 said “the Science Bowl is an exciting way to both learn and competitively share what you already know…. It’s a great opportunity for kids to actually apply what they learn, and it’s fun to boot.”

Several Star Lane students, including Kaylee Dunihoo and Breann Nelson, said that the competition is important because it builds confidence in kids. Abbie Schaible said it made her feel smart.

Hunter Hout, also of Star Lane, echoing Gabe Miller, summarizes why students like to participate in science bowl. “Honestly,” she said, “it’s just fun and it feels good to support your school.”

Through the generosity of many local businesses and individuals, including the donation of the buzzer systems and other tournament hardware from RMOTC, funds were raised and volunteers identified to officiate the event.

Alicia Rafuse, moderator, Scott Martin, time keeper, and Rob Pettigrew, scorekeeper, command a round robin match. (Doug Tunison/WyoFile — click to view)

The U.S. Department of Energy pays for the winning team’s trip to compete at Nationals but funds are required to host the regional event. The sponsors help pay for cash awards and trophies for the winning schools, t-shirts and food for the students and volunteers, and other expenses related to organizing and holding the event.

Final Results of the regional competition:

  • 1st Place—Kelly Walsh High School Team 1 (Casper, WY)
  • 2nd Place—Campbell County High School Team 2 (Gillette, WY)
  • 3rd Place—Kelly Walsh High School Team 2 (Casper, WY)
  • Civility Award—Star Lane Center Team 1 (Casper, WY)

Participating schools in the tournament this year were:

  • Big Horn High School (Sheridan, WY)
  • Campbell County High School (Gillette, WY)
  • Douglas High School (Douglas, WY)
  • Kelly Walsh High School (Casper, WY)
  • Star Lane Center (Casper, WY)
  • Torrington High School (Torrington, WY)
  • Worland High School (Worland, WY)

Next year, organizers of the Wyoming Regional Science Bowl hope to expand the number of schools participating in the high school competition and begin hosting a similar competition for Wyoming middle schools. More photos of this year’s event are available here.

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