Bethlehem Central High School overcame a half-time deficit to defeat Niskayuna High School and repeat as champions of the regional qualifying round of the National Science Bowl Saturday.
Austin Mayron, a junior and Bethlehem’s team captain, stood out during the championship round, not only for his skill at answering a wide range of science and math questions, but also because he was the only participant not wearing the blue Science Bowl T-shirts distributed by GE Global Research, the co-sponsor of the event with Knolls Atomic Power Lab. Mayron is a veteran of last year’s championship team and the only sophomore ever to travel to the national competition for Bethlehem. Saturday he wore a bright green T-shirt on his back and the thrill of victory on his sleeve.
“I am the overconfident, arrogant, team captain Austin Mayron, and you can write that down, I don’t care,” he said, after waving the team’s mascot, a plastic turtle named Werner Heisenberg, in the air and yelling, “we won!”
The rest of the team included junior Gurtej Kanwar and seniors Ray Futia, Connor Duffy and Jared Mayron.
“I can vouch for [Austin’s arrogance] as his brother,” Jared quipped.
Their coach is Bethlehem science teacher Paul O’Reilly, who’s now coached six of the past 11 regional champs.
Bethlehem and Niskayuna were two of 25 schools competing Saturday to go to the National Science Bowl in Washington D.C. in April. Approximately 450 students, coaches and volunteers participated. The National Science Bowl is funded by the U.S. Dept. of Energy, which pays for travel and lodging for the competition in D.C.
The regional qualifying round also included a middle school championship, won by Van Antwerp Middle School for the sixth straight year. Van Antwerp also won a hydrogen fuel cell model car race, which was a non-scoring event. The students on Van Antwerp’s team are Ceclia Holodak, Andrew Stewart, Alexander Young, Martin Schreiner and Aiden Wolfe. The group is coached by science teacher Connie Soron.
At the Science Bowl teams compete in individual and group question and answer contests from disciplines including chemistry, physics, astronomy and earth sciences. During the first half of the high school championship round Niskayuna dominated by correctly answering difficult math questions, in the second half Bethlehem used a strong team dynamic to answer bonus questions, which the entire team can discuss before answering.
O’Reilly said team chemistry can be a key factor in winning the Science Bowl. This year, he admits, his team practically drips testosterone. Led by the boisterous Austin Mayron, the group is quick with the competition buzzer and with high-fives after a question is answered correctly.
“I think the important thing is to pick the right students and to give them the freedom to lead. You don’t win with just a superstar, you need a superstar, but you don’t win with just a superstar. You can’t know everything, so you need subject-specific [players]. Like Ray is our biology expert,” he said. “One of the things you want is to get teams to talk on the bonus questions and for players to express themselves very strongly. Also, where you physically position them is important because you want your quieter players closer to the captain because otherwise they could get ignored, and they might have the right answer.”
No female competitors made it to the final round of the high school championship Saturday. Niskayuna’s team had four players: senior David Bieber, junior Tom Mason and sophomores Mark Stoessel and Gabriel Holodak.
Austin Mayron said, in his experience, the ratio of males to females at the Science Bowl tends to be about four to one.
“I tried hard to get girls, but girls really didn’t want to do it,” he said.
O’Reilly said he always attempts to recruit females for his teams, but said it can be difficult to get one girl to join a team dominated by males.
“You really need two girls to join and it can be hard to find two who are interested in doing it. We do try very hard to recruit them. The best team we’ve taken to Washington had two girls on it,” O’Reilly said.
Kapil Singh, a GE researcher, helped organize the event; more than 100 volunteers from GE and KAPL helped moderate, judge, keep time and score the competition. Singh said GE and KAPL have some discretion over the rules for the regional competition and they might consider requiring teams to include some female members in the future.
“I would like to do that. If there is any way we can influence this, perhaps we’ll make a rule and do something about it,” Singh said. “We are falling behind in science and technology, if we’d like to maintain our superpower status we need to lead the world in science and technology. What we have seen is if you can’t get the kids interested by the middle school level, we basically lose them forever.”
Kuppuswamy Murali, the senior human resources manager for GE Global Research, said he wants young people to understand how many opportunities can be made available to them through science and technology.
“The truth is the number of the folks we will be hiring this year, right here [at GE Global Research in Niskayuna] is the highest number in the last five years. We are not hiring people like me. We are not hiring accountants. We are not hiring lawyers. We are hiring technologists and scientists,” he said.
Although they lost the competition, the message of the event was not lost on Niskayuna’s team. All four members said they want to pursue some kind of career in the sciences. Holodak likes biology, Mason likes geology and physics and Stoessel wants to pursue bio-chemistry.
Bieber said he’s still searching. “I’d like to go into some area of math or science, but I don’t know what area specifically.”