For the 25th time since 1986, the Science Olympiad team at Thomas Jefferson Middle School will head to nationals as state champions for their age group.
Despite starting preparations in November and practicing five days a week, including Saturdays, beginning in January, coach Richard Bender said this group of students has been particularly dedicated.
“I’ve never heard a single complaint out of any of them all year long,” Bender said. “That’s pretty unique. They like being here.”
The 16-member team, along with a few parents, and coaches Richard Bender and Carol Haller, left the middle school around noon to head to the competition site at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.
Although the competitive events do not start until Saturday morning, the group left early so they could enjoy their time in Ohio. Students will spend their Thursday at King’s Island amusement park, and Friday they will participate in the opening ceremonies and familiarize themselves with the university.
Family, friends and fans can watch the team through Wright State’s livestream of the event. Bender said he thinks the team will place at least in the top 10 nationally.
Competitions include a series of events where students have to complete tasks. Events such as Scrambler, where students have to keep an egg from cracking after a fall, require students to build devices at school and test them on competition day. Others, such as Experimental Design, where participants have to come up with an experiment and lab report based on given subjects, are completed entirely onsite.
Max Trowbridge, a seventh grader who returned for his second Science Olympiad season this year, was excited to participate in events that counted toward the team’s winning score because last year he served as an alternate.
In his favorite event, Mission Possible, Trowbridge helped build a Rube Goldberg machine that met the 90-120 second time requirement.
During his time on Science Olympiad, Trowbridge said he has learned social skills both by talking with judges and by learning to work better with his teammates.
“We have such a great team dynamic,” Trowbridge said.
For her Food Science event, sixth grader and first year-member Lily Rengstorf had to come up with a way to build a calorimeter to determine how many calories are in certain foods. The team used items like pop cans to create the device. In order for it to work, they have to set fire to the foods they want to test.
“We made the whole tech room smell like burning Cheetos,” Rengstorf said.
Success in the TJMS Science Olympiad program began in 1986 when Bender and Haller took over the team. Over the years, they have used the opportunity teach hard work, goal-setting skills, teamwork and time management.
As a coach, Science Olympiad is also a great way to build relationships with students outside the classroom, Haller said.
“You really get to know them personally and their families,” Haller said.
Bender’s motivation for the job comes from the science side, he said.
“I do it because I love the challenge,” Bender said. “There’s something about it that triggers a desire to excel and to learn and work with kids and a team.”