Story by Emma Coleman and photos by Carsyn Owens





These were the scores from the opening rounds of competition from the recent Science Bowl competition, and in all of them, it’s West who came out on top.

Two teams from West qualified for this year’s Science Knowledge Bowl state competition, and in the end one of them ended up taking third place. That team consisted of seniors Marie Reuss and captain Alex Wood, as well as juniors Cole Perry, Tim Nguyen and Joshua Foster.

On the second team were sophomores Stephanie Richardson, Maryam Khalil, Lauren Smith, Grace Stewart and captain Molly Wooster. Team two finished pool play with two wins and three losses.

This year in particular our team performed extremely well, better than it has ever performed in the past,” Foster said.

Foster said also that the team’s success was due in large part to Reuss with her background and understanding of biology and anatomy. During the Science Knowledge Bowl competition competitors are asked a wide range of questions from any of the six categories which include math, physics, chemistry, biology, earth and space, and energy.

John Gray, the club sponsor and coach, tries to recruit students with interests in each of the disciplines. “What we do is we’ll practice and we’ll start to see who’s answering a lot of questions and then we’ll start dividing into categories, so we need someone who’s like a biology specialist. [This year] I had Marie Reuss, who is my biology specialist, Tim Nguyen is my math specialist, and Cole Perry and Alex Wood and Joshua Foster were the physics and chemistry.”

Senior Alex Wood, who was this year’s captain, joined science bowl because, “it sounded like a lot of fun. I have always enjoyed math, science, and competition.”

Outside of Science Bowl, Wood is the business lead for Team Titanium and the president of Spanish Honor Society. He also plays varsity soccer, is in National Honor Society, and UNICEF. “I balance these activities by setting priorities, and working hard to ensure that I meet all of my responsibilities are met. Also, a lack of sleep and caffeine dependency,” he said.

A busy schedule means that students aren’t always available for the competitions. “The problem with it is I can take five of the brighter kids from Lee’s Summit West and we could go and win that competition, but everybody’s involved in robotics, and music, and everybody’s so busy,” said Gray.

Science Bowl sponsor and chemistry teacher John Gray displays his team’s trophy for winning third in the Science Knowledge Bowl state competition. Photo by Carsyn Owens.

At one point the state competition fell on the same Saturday as robotics and districts for music so at times Gray’s team only had three members who were able to compete. Luckily that was not the case this year.

It just happened that this year I had no conflicts on that Saturday, so I had my kids, I had my guns, and we went over there and the first team we played, Lynburg, we beat them 76 to 22,” said Gray.

As for the structure of the competition the day starts out with pool play, from which the top two performing teams will advance. The contest then progresses from quarter to grand finals, in a single elimination fashion. Foster said that when it comes to the question format, “the moderators will ask a toss-up question worth four points, and if one of the team’s answers it correctly, they’re given a 10-point bonus question on which they can confer. Rounds are roughly 20 toss-up questions.”

The quick Jeopardy-style rounds force competitors to think on their feet as they have only four seconds to answer toss-up questions and twenty seconds for bonus questions.

“Many [questions] require multiple calculations in only four seconds which can be difficult,” Wood said. “Furthermore, the questions are made to be extremely difficult and pull from a variety of classes, some of which I’ve taken, some of which I haven’t.”

Science Bowl gives students a platform to show just how much they know about the different areas of the scientific field, “you’ve got all these nerdy kids from all around Missouri and Kansas and it’s just kinda cool for them to ask a hard question and for you to get the answer, not any of the other nerdy kids,” said Gray.

However, the questions designed to be difficult and sometimes competitors just don’t know the answer.

The hardest aspect of science bowl is actually the strategy of the game itself. That comes in the form of knowing when to guess and when not to, how to manage time, how to coordinate as a team, and a lot of this stuff actually comes down to being very aware of what you don’t know, acknowledging that, and acting on it . In that way you have to be very humble and cooperative,” Foster said. “I can’t just be a one-man team in life or in competition, and learning to defer to people who you know know more than you is important.”

Junior Mickey Odell is planning on joining the Science Knowledge Bowl team next year. She hopes to fill the spot as biology specialist as Reuss will be graduating this year.

I think that it would be fun to push myself to find out what I know and what I don’t know; to see how far I’ve come and how far I have yet to go. I will be pursuing a lot of science credits in college and it’s kinda fun to see that exposure that I can get in Science Bowl,” said Odell.

“I’m very excited, in fact I still haven’t closed those Science Bowl questions from like a week ago, yeah I still have them open and I still look at them because I want to kick ass,” Odell said. 

For others who may consider joining Science Bowl, Wood said, “I would tell people to just go ahead and join. Yeah, it’s really nerdy, but that’s part of the fun of it.”

“I want to take this opportunity to advertise that we need representatives of more scientific disciplines,” Foster said. “If we don’t get any new recruits for next year, I expect that we’ll struggle a lot with Biology, Earth Science, and Astronomy and won’t be able to replicate or outperform our results this year.

“It’s a fun, relatively low commitment experience and a great outlet for people passionate about Science. I think that this year we’ve shown that, with the right people, West can be very competitive at the State level at a minimum, and I really hope that that draws more people into Science Bowl and allows us to snowball and perform even better,” said Foster.