First place overall: California Trail Junior High School Olathe Central Junior High School came in sixth out of 24 schools entered in the competition and earned eight bronze medals.
First place overall: Olathe East High School Free State High School was seventh out of 20 schools in the competition and earned 3 silver and 5 bronze medals.
Source: Dennis Bishop, regional director of the northeast Kansas Science Olympiad
The snow-packed roads kept some schools away, but more than 600 students braved the weather Saturday to attend the 25th annual regional Science Olympiad at Johnson County Community College.
The competition, which takes place in 47 states every year, is open to grades six through 12, and though students who participate come from all different schools, backgrounds and levels of experience, they usually have at least one collective thought in common: Science really is the spice of life.
“It’s just so much fun,” said Lawrence Free State High School senior Ruth Byers of why she’s participated in regional and state Olympiads since eighth grade. “You go in, take a test and a lot of times, you get medals for your efforts.”
This year’s Science Olympiad kicked off at 8:30 a.m., and students from schools across northeast Kansas were in attendance, including those from Free State High School and Central Junior High School.
Saturday’s Olympiad was structured so that students could participate in many science-related competitions. Each school could send a team of 15 students. Grade levels were divided into divisions B (middle school and junior high) and C (high school).
Some interactive events, such as one covering the study of trajectory, were available to both divisions.
Students wanting to participate in trajectory were required to build a homemade catapult. During the competition, each team of two used their catapults to launch a tennis ball and collect data based on how high and how far the ball went.
Bonner Springs High School sophomore Riley Mortensen said this was one of her favorite events. Her catapult was one she built in an hour last Wednesday with partner Alan Smith, a BSHS junior.
“We watched all these kids with complicated catapults launch their tennis ball, and they all missed,” Mortensen said. “And we got up there with our simple, to-the-point catapult and got it on the first try. It’s amazing, the power of simplicity.”
To prepare for the Olympiad, many students begin studying at the beginning of the school year. Each team has a coach as well. But Dennis Bishop, regional director of the northeast Kansas Science Olympiad and a coach for the Shawnee Mission Northwest High School team, said his role as coach often becomes obsolete with these students.
“You wind up getting (students) who are really enthusiastic about science and learning,” Bishop said. “The coaches don’t really do that much in the way of instruction.”
At the end of each Olympiad is an award ceremony, where gold, silver and bronze medals are given to the students with the most points. Trophies are also awarded to the top three schools. While this is one of many highlights the students will experience throughout the day, Bishop said the real reward for him comes from how much knowledge all the participants are able to achieve just through preparing for the Olympiad.
“I have a Ph.D. in medicine, and by the end of this competition, they know a lot more about science than I do,” he said. “That’s exciting as a coach, to see them do that. These kids are the best group of kids I’ve ever worked with in my life.”
The State Science Olympiad will be April 4 at Wichita State University.