Sunday, February 24, 2008

Blue Crab Bowl; Not All High School Kids Are Dumb

Yesterday I spent all day volunteering with other VIMS Graduate Students at the 2008 "Blue Crab Bowl" in Norfolk. The BCB is a gameshow-style marine science competition among high school teams from around Virginia. It's associated with the National Ocean Sciences Bowl, and the winning team from Virginia gets invited to the prestigious national competition.


My job at the bowl was to keep score on an overhead projector as the students answered questions. It was a good review of basic oceanography for me. And it was funny to watch the high schoolers, who ranged from clueless to wunderkind geniuses, wrack their brains. The most polished teams were, of course, composed of privileged students from private academies like Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School and special magnet programs like the Virginia Governors' School. But there were some public school teams at the top, as well, like Yorktown's Grafton High School, which had an excellent coach and an impressively bright team captain.

In the close battles between well-matched teams, the result were often determined by wild luck and / or technical rulings. This was the case in the grand finale between Grafton and Bishop Sullivan. After nailing the final question, Grafton needed only to answer the 6-point bonus question correctly to win by a 4 point margin. The question was, "Which area of the ocean is known for an unusually high frequency of large rogue waves?" It was multiple choice between 4 possible answers, W through Z. Grafton's captain Heather Stevens answered correctly, "Z- The Agulhas Current", but the answer was unacceptable because you have to say either the letter of the answer only; "Z", or the complete answer verbatim; "Z- The Agulhas Current off of South Africa". Damn! Everyone in the audience let out a collective "OHHH" when Stevens misspoke, giving the first place, and a trip to the nationals in Alaska, to Bishop Sullivan. If I was in Stevens' position I probably would have cried, but she seemed to have a good sense of humor about it. I guess there's always next year.

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