Another championship award has been added to Oakdale High School’s academic trophy case as the OHS Science Olympiad team took the top prize at the 25th Annual Regional Science Olympiad at Modesto Junior College on March 5. They will advance to the NorCal State Championships in Clovis on April 9.
“We are, of course, super excited that we have retained the championship and brought the giant trophy back home,” said OHS science teacher and team coach Cameron Nickerson.
He added that the competition was fierce with 20 teams from area high schools – public, private, and charter – entered. Oakdale’s Gold team, Modesto Crimson team, Modesto Christian Red team, and Downey will move on to the state level to compete for the championship.
“We were working really hard, but were still having problems with various events even as late as Friday night (before competition),” said Nickerson. “We stayed really late most days that last week working on some events trying to work out bugs. During that time we doubled our rubber band powered helicopter’s flight time, for instance, and for the first time started flying it to the ceiling of the gym.”
Even with marked progress, Nickerson acknowledged that he was nervous for the team.
“Still, not having everything working smoothly that late shook my confidence quite a bit,” he said. “Really, the coach is done by event day, and it is all up to the students… During the afternoon, I polled the students about how their events were going, and began to get confident again that we were going to finish high enough to go to State.”
Nickerson described the Science Olympiad events as a mixture of study and test, “pre-build,” which are built before hand and tested at the event, and some events mix the two with both a pre-build and a test. He said that there are frustrations in trying to gauge how the team is doing at the event because anything can happen.
“The difficulty is that there are many events that you don’t know how the other teams did compared to you,” he explained. “A poor performance may turn out to be a medal winner in a particularly difficult event, or sometimes a great performance is still beaten by one better.”
He said that even luck, or a lack thereof, plays a part in how it all works out in the end. Sometimes there are snafus that can’t be predicted.
“Our Sumo Bot, for instance, got beaten twice in the double elimination event. Once, a wire came disconnected when the competing bots slammed into each other, and Andrew (Gilpin) lost control,” Nickerson reported. “The second loss came when, by freak chance, the other Bot, which was being pushed out of the ring, accidentally rode over some shielding and fell on the on-off switch, shutting our Sumo Bot down. Neither of these things had happened before in the months of testing that went into this robot.”
While other teams may have been nipping at their heels, and coach Nickerson was getting nervous about retaining “bragging rights,” Oakdale still prevailed at the end of 22 competition events.
“I knew whatever the outcome…I would come back proud of these students,” Nickerson said. “These kids are just awesome competitors and such great people. Oakdale High School was even singled out for demonstrating sportsmanlike conduct during the awards ceremony. In an unrelated event, I saw one of our players help out a competitor who was doing a pre-build event and would be placed very low because of a construction rule violation. Our student showed the other how to fix his problem so he could compete in the upper tier against us.”
Oakdale had two teams entered in the competition. The Gold team, which won the event, had 13 people and the Red team had seven members. Fellow OHS science teacher Phil Herrick served as assistant coach and worked a lot with the Red team.
Nickerson said he was very proud of the Red team. They only entered a few events, but still placed 14th overall and was up for medals several times, even beating the Gold team in a few events.
“These were all folks who were new to high school level competition, and they really came to play hard,” he said. “Even though I’m going to be losing half of my Gold team to graduation, I am not worried about going into next year with a weak team as long as all these people come back.”
Medals were awarded at the event for first through fifth place and every Gold team member earned at least one medal.
Gold team members are Julie Bolme, Fernando Cruz, Andrew Gilpin, Ryan Gilpin, Rakel Mendoza, Chris Ng, Paul Perrone, Pablo Rodriguez, Erika Villa, JT Vizenor, Trevor White, and Danny Wong.
Red team members are Mason Schmidt, Emily Bradley, Sabrina Bell, Ryan Tanis, Thomas Dempsey, Jason Yong, and Alex Rodriguez.
Check out the March 16 issue of The Leader for detailed results about how the OHS Science Olympiad Gold and Red teams placed at this year’s Regional Science Olympiad.
Nickerson said the OHS team had a lot of help and support from the community.
“Numerous people in the local stores – Ace Hardware and the Hobby Shop especially –helped us choose the right glues and saw blades and strategies for doing odd things like cutting propane tanks into finely tuned percussion instruments and sticks of balsa into towers designed to hold more than 30 pounds, and held their doors (open) when we showed up just before closing to get that one last thing we needed to keep going that evening,” he reported.
Nickerson also said that school custodian Rick Murphy happened to come through Nickerson’s room one day when they were struggling to find a way to get Sumo Bot’s tires to stop slipping on the floor. Murphy suggested the perfect thing to help turn the OHS Sumo Bot into the most feared at the event, Nickerson said.
He added that School Site Council, Academic Boosters and the Stanislaus County Educational Foundation provided generous financial support.
“Academic Boosters really came through when we needed them at the end when other money was running very low,” Nickerson said.
He also said the helpful volunteer squad of parents provided pizzas and home cooked food when the team was having evening sessions. As well, the parent volunteers manned the home base during the event, helped keep the students headed in the right direction with the right materials for each of their events during the day. Parent Monica Perrone organized the other parent volunteers and the event lunch and “home base.”
Even the OHS water polo team lent their easy-ups to the Science Olympiad team, and support was voiced from the district office as well.