After several months of preparation and the harried intensity of pulling together the last minute details, 20 of Oakdale High School’s best and brightest science students will compete in the 25th Annual Regional Science Olympiad at Modesto Junior College on March 5.
The students are separated into two teams: Oakdale Gold consisting of 13 members and Oakdale Red with seven members. The Gold team will compete in all 22 events but the Red team will not, as approximately 15 members are needed for a full team. OHS science teacher Cameron Nickerson is coaching this year’s team with help from fellow science teacher Philip Herrick. Nickerson said that about half of the team members are Science Olympiad veterans and several of them are also part of the school’s champion Academic Decathlon team.
“This year, with the top four teams going to the NorCal event from our region, we are expecting that barring major mishaps, we will do well enough to advance to the next level,” Nickerson said. “We are very hopeful of finishing in first place overall at the Regional again with our Gold team, though one never knows for sure what will go wrong or how the other teams will perform.”
He added that they’re looking to bring home more gold medals this year than in the past. Last year, the OHS team placed first at the regional contest.
“The kids have been working hard and a long time,” Nickerson said, noting that early preparations for the event began in late October.
The Science Olympiad consists of a series of both written and hands-on events where students test what they’ve built. Each event has detailed rules, and according to Nickerson, “anything can happen,” even when a team is prepared.
“We are not happy yet with any of our ‘build events,’ where we pre-build something then compete with it,” he said. “We usually end up doing well with those, however, so really all the pressure is mental and self-inflicted at the moment.”
During a recent practice, senior Ryan Gilpin was building a mechanical Mousetrap Vehicle, which had various parts including CDs, balsa wood, hot glue, magnets, and of course, mousetraps. He said that they placed second last year in the Mousetrap Vehicle event but this year they’re planning to win with an improved design.
Nickerson said one of the events the OHS team is really excited about this year is called “Sound of Music.” Both the Red and Gold teams are slated to compete in this event.
“As a pair, team members are required to build and demonstrate the playability of two instruments together – one must be woodwind, and one a percussion,” Nickerson explained. “Gold team will be entering a homemade bagpipe as their woodwind, and for their percussion, a drum made from a propane tank. The drum has multiple notes and a surreal gonglike sound. Red team will be entering a thumb piano as their percussion – made from a box and an old rake. Their woodwind will be a PVC pennywhistle-style flute.”
Nickerson also reported that he has approximately 10 freshman students slated to compete, which is an unusually high number. He said that the contest is very intense for freshmen but having so many gain the competition experience this year should bode well for future OHS Science Olympiad teams.
More than 550 students will compete at the Regional Science Olympiad. The Saturday event begins at 8:30 a.m. and the awards ceremony is at 3:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend and admission and parking are free. MJC is located at 435 College Ave., Modesto.
The top four high school teams advance to the Northern California (NorCal) Science Olympiad state finals on April 9 at Clovis North High School near Fresno.