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Malad Academic Team

The MHS Academic A Team during the first round of last week’s meet

 Here’s a question: “What ‘s the name of the device that measures electrostatic charges?”  Here are a few others: “How many sides does an icosagon have?  In Greek Mythology, what did Prometheus steal, causing him to be punished by the Gods?”  For the record, the answers are electroscope, twenty, and fire.  And further, those questions were on the easier end of the ones asked at last week’s Academic Team meet between Malad, American Falls, Preston, Marsh Valley, and West Side.  

The Malad High School Academic Team is in its fifth year, and in that time has seen a lot of competitive success, placing first or second in their brackets over the last three years and advancing to the Champion of Champion Rounds at the INL Science Bowl.   

The recent tournament itself is not an official event.  Rather it was one of a series of practice sessions designed to get the students ready to compete at the Regional Science Bowl sponsored by INL in March.  According to coach Jennie McClain, “We organize practice competitions with five schools in the area, Marsh Valley, Preston, West Side, and American Falls, so that we can be better prepared.  These aren't official competitions, just kind of like scrimmages in the sports world. “ 

Also like a conventional sporting event, the rounds are quick, intense, and require a lot of training and performance to excel at.  During an Academic Meet, each team is given a short time to answer a question from a range of categories, including Math, Physics, Biology, Literature, Geography, Earth and Space, and so on.  Whoever buzzes in first from the team provides their answer, and is awarded 10 points if the answer is correct.  The team is then given a chance to answer a bonus question for 5 points.  If, on the other hand, the team misses the first question, the opponents are given a chance to answer it.  For most questions, the respondent has ten second to respond with a complete answer.  Questions that involve mathematical solutions allow for 20 seconds for responses.  In performance terms, the math questions tend to be the most demanding, with complex formulae-based responses required.  

Each round also features a quick-answer “Lightning Round” element that lasts a minute.  The team is given that time to answer as many questions as possible.  Since the format requires the right answer to be said by any one of the team members, but no penalty for wrong answers, often the result is a cacophony of shouted answers.  During the lightning round, the team captain has the option to say “pass” if the answer does not appear to be forthcoming.  At the end of the minute, 5 points are awarded for each correct answer.  Given the speed of the questions, these tend to focus more on definitions, concepts, history, literature, and general knowledge.  During this competition, many of the adult participants were disappointed to discover that the students had no idea “which western from the 1980s starred Emilio Estevez,” (Young Guns), but were impressed that they knew “which creature is said to secrete its own sunscreen?” (the Walrus).

The second full round follows the same pattern at the first.  At the end of all three rounds, the team with the highest combined total is the winner.  

Since the questions cover a range of topics, it is helpful for Academic Teams to have participants with a wide-ranging knowledge, as well as a quick response time.  Each team is allowed, however, to have a set of “consultants,” who can be used for input during the round. 

The INL Science Bowl will be March 11th this year.  McClain explains, “We usually travel to Idaho Falls for this competition, but because of COVID, the National Science Bowl is requiring all regional competitions to be held through Zoom again this year.  This takes a little fun out of the competition because we don't get to go head-to-head with other teams, but we are grateful for the opportunity to still compete.”  Many events across the state and country are still in an intermediate place with regard to COVID restrictions.  Recent changes to CDC guidelines have opened up many public events this year to a return to in-person competition.  However, events which had been planned much earlier in their season, such as the National Science Bowl, are retaining their original scheduling.  The in-person interaction of the Academic Team competition does create an interesting, dynamic atmosphere that is less easily replicated in a virtual communication space.  Still, the team has had experience in this environment, and should be ready as always. 

The format works like a standard tournament.  As McClain explains, “The competition starts out with schools divided into brackets based on school size.   This will be our fifth year competing at the INL science bowl.  The first year we learned a lot, but didn't have many wins.  The second year we took 2nd in our bracket, the third year we took 1st, and then last year we took second again. The top two teams in each bracket advance to the Champion of Champions round, which includes all schools.  We usually do really well against the other 2A schools, but have a harder time competing against the larger schools.  The winner of the regional competition goes to the national science bowl competition, all expenses paid by INL.”

The team itself is formulated to compete in similar events.  Regionally, the INL Science Bowl is the largest event, but there are a number of other venues in which academic teams compete.  College Quiz Bowl is probably the most well-known of these.  “We are always looking for other places for the team to compete, but the science bowl is the only big competition in our area.  Last year we were able to compete through Zoom at a National Quiz Bowl competition and this year we also participated in a competition sponsored by the Mathematical Association of American,” McClain says.

The Academic Team works like Varsity and JV in other sports, with an A and B team.  This year, the teams are as follows: 

A Team: Samuel Pickett, Joshua Pickett, Curtis Huckaby, Madelyn Shaw, Savana Young, Jaxom Whipple

B Team (like JV): Winona Young, Alex Christensen, Joe Willie, Addler Garrett, MaClaren Garrett, Sarina Whipple, Sara Rogers, Micah Butler