By Peter H. Milliken
Although the nearest salt water is hundreds of miles from here, student teams from 15 high schools gathered here to compete in an ocean-sciences quiz bowl.
Saturday’s Penguin Bowl at Youngstown State University’s Kilcawley Center featured contestants from as far away as Louisville, Ky. About 100 students participated.
The quiz bowl also included many questions about the Great Lakes, which constitute the world’s largest collection of freshwater lakes.
“This year, the theme is the Great Lakes,” Raymond E. Beiersdorfer, a YSU geology professor and Penguin Bowl regional coordinator, said of the event.
“About 70 percent of the globe is covered by the oceans,” which contain 97 percent of Earth’s water, he said. Climate change and rising sea levels are looming environmental challenges, he added.
The Penguin Bowl is one of 25 annual regional ocean-science-knowledge competitions in which teams of four or five students are tested with quick-answer “buzzer” questions and thought-provoking team-challenge questions.
The Penguin Bowl’s winning team, from Atherton High School in Louisville, Ky., will compete against winners of the 24 other regional competitions in the 16th annual National Ocean Sciences Bowl, April 18-21, at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.
Taking second place in the Penguin Bowl was North Allegheny High School from Wexford, Pa., a first-time Penguin Bowl competitor.
Tied for third place were Northwest Collegiate Academy of Erie, Pa., and Centerville High School, Centerville, Ohio.
“I have an extreme love for ocean sciences,” said Ashton Borelli, a junior at East Palestine High School. She said her interest in marine science began when she won at a fair her first goldfish for her home aquarium.
“I just fell in love with how they worked and how they looked and what made them do the things that they do,” she explained.
She said she hoped to leave Saturday’s competition with “a broader-based knowledge of marine sciences.” She plans to major in marine biology in college.
“Everything that happens out in the ocean will affect us,” including the impact of littering and over-fishing, she said of the importance of the oceans in the global environment.
“It’s a really fun thing to do. You meet a lot of nice people here, who share common interests,” she said of the competition.
“It sounded fun to me, and it was an educational experience,” said Kemoni Bailey, a freshman at Chaney High School in Youngstown, explaining why he chose to participate in the Penguin Bowl.
Although he said he wants to become a lawyer, Bailey said he participated in the bowl because he wanted to learn more about the physical and chemical sciences and the marine environment.
“You use science every day of your life,” even when performing routine chores, such as using household chemicals, he observed.
Ocean science takes on great significance when one considers the impact of Hurricane Sandy and this weekend’s major snowstorm in the northeastern United States, he observed.
This was the 11th Penguin Bowl. The event started at YSU in 2003, and its location alternates between YSU in odd-numbered years and the Pittsburgh Zoo in even-numbered years.
Local participants in this year’s event included students from Chaney, Boardman, Canfield, East Palestine, Jackson-Milton, Leetonia and Ursuline high schools. Other participants came from Gates Mills, Uniontown, Medina and Ravenna, Ohio.
This year, the Penguin Bowl took place as part of a new partnership with the OH WOW! Roger and Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science and Technology in Youngstown.
The Penguin Bowl is part of the National Ocean Sciences Bowl, which is sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Consortium for Ocean Leadership.
Some 2,000 students from 300 high schools are participating nationally in the marine-science educational forum this year. The yearly competition began in 1998, which was the International Year of the Ocean.
Bowl question categories include biology, chemistry, geography, geology, marine policy, physical oceanography, social sciences and technology.
Through this knowledge bowl, organizers say they hope to cultivate the next generation of marine scientists, teachers, explorers, researchers, technicians, policymakers, environmental advocates and informed citizens.
Many past bowl contestants have pursued college degrees and careers in marine science, organizers said.
“The main thing is ocean literacy. That’s the main goal,” Beiersdorfer said. “I like [the fact] that it’s a competition based on academics, not on athletics,” he concluded.