WHS Olympiad team mining for state gold

Published 8:05 pm Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Washington High School senior Kevin Chavez works through lunch on a tower designed to hold a bucket filled with 45 to 50 pounds of sand. The tower project falls into the physics and engineering category of the Science Olympiad, a national competition. (WDN Photo/Vail Stewart Rumley)

They call themselves peripheral isolates. It’s a play on words, a bit of self-deprecating humor, a biology term meaning small groups isolated from the general population which eventually evolve to be different from the general population.

Here, the small group consists of science whizzes; the general population encompasses everyone else in high school; and part of the evolution involves winning the 2012 Regional Science Olympiad.

For the 17th consecutive year, Washington High School’s Science Olympiad team is heading to the state championships in Raleigh. The 17-member team swept the competition at the regional championships held Jan. 29 at East Carolina University, beating J.H. Rose High School in Greenville for the No. 1 spot.

They took eight gold medals, five silvers and four bronze medals from a field that included 12 other high schools’ teams.

The competition touches on all aspects of science, biology to physics. Students volunteer for the team, sometimes getting tapped by their science teachers if they excel in a subject.

“These kids are really doing a good job,” said science teacher Clay Campbell, coach of the Olympiad team. “We’re beating much bigger schools.”

Campbell has been leading winners to the state level for 18 years, of those 18 years, 12 have been with WHS teams. Four times they’ve reached even higher to go national, though the last time was five years ago.

By taking the team to the state championship, the competition gets fierce.

“Basically it’s the (North Carolina) School of Math and Sciences against us,” said Avery Woolard, a senior.

“It’s the best schools in the state,” Campbell agreed.

WHS’s Olympiad team will take on the best in the state April 27-28. For senior Hannah Sandy, that means she’ll be studying up on Designer Genes and Microbe Mission — which will include sit-down tests as well as identifying viruses and bacteria at a series of stations. For Neeti Mehta, also a senior, taking part in Anatomy and Physiology, Forensics and Experimental Design means she’ll be brushing up for a test of three different body systems and identifying fibers though various experimental processes. Experimental design explores a student’s knowledge of the scientific method: students are given a set group of items and must create their own hypothesis, experiment and theory from the set.

Other members of the team gravitate toward the more physical application of science — physics and engineering, building towers that can hold more weight than any other, helicopters that can fly better than the rest.

“They would prefer to build things rather than study,” Campbell claimed.

Ultimately, however, which student competes in what category is determined by “who’s good at what and who’s available when,” according the Campbell.

The maximum number of students on a school’s team is 18, and only 10 of those can be seniors. The 2012 team responsible for the win that will send them to the state competition includes varsity team members: seniors Josh Crozier, Avery Woolard, Davis Rumley, Neeti Mehta, Hannah Sandy, Geovanne Romero; juniors Addie Van Salisbury, Dylan Cutler, Emily Pfieffer, Emily Bohn, James Martin, Samantha Woolard, Thomas Hall, David Alverez; and sophomores Sarah Jennings, Tori Edwards, Matthew Wescott; and junior varsity team members: seniors Kevin Chavez, Charon Spencer; sophomores Reed Padgett, Thomas Styers, Bryce Sadler; and freshmen Zack Crawford, Taylor Abele, William Page, Carter Jewell, Kelsey Lang, and Connor Wilkins.

First place at state competition means a $2,500 scholarship to North Carolina State University.

“We’ve got a solid team,” said Campbell.