The 11th Penguin Bowl

YOUNGSTOWN – Ocean science mixed with the beeping of buzzers and waves of whispers among teammates Saturday in the halls of Youngstown State University’s Kilcawley Center.

Area high school students and some from out-of-state pooled their knowledge and competed for the top prize during the 11th annual Penguin Bowl.

“It was an exciting event,” said Dr. Raymond E. Beiersdorfer, National Ocean Sciences Bowl regional coordinator and associate director of YSU’s Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences. “(The winners) are very excited.”

The National Ocean Sciences Bowl, managed by the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, holds regional tournaments in 25 locations, with 300 schools and more than 2,000 students participating annually.

The primary goals of the Penguin Bowl are to promote ocean literacy and awareness of careers in ocean science, Beiersdorfer said.

This year, Atherton High School of Louisville, Ky., took first place, earning a spot in the upcoming nationals. Winning teams also received T-shirts, trophies and more than $1,000 in science textbooks donated by publishers.

Coming in second was North Allegheny Senior High, Wexford, Pa. It was the school’s first time competing.

“This is our first-ever experience and I will tell you, we are loving it,” teacher and coach Cris Ruffolo said. “The experience has really been first-rate.

”The questions are interesting and engaging, the format here really allows the kids to go in-depth. They’re learning stuff just from the questions that they’re asking,” she said.

Ruffolo’s team consisted of Carol Wang, 17, Evan Lee, 18, Tom McCoy, 18, and Ruffolo’s son, Russell. Russell was added after a team member dropped out.

Penguin Bowl questions involve biology, chemistry, physics, geography and other subjects, and relate not only to oceans, but also the Great Lakes. The difficulty is freshman and some sophomore college level, but at the nationals, students will face upper division level questions.

“In the challenge rounds, the kids have to collaborate and share their knowledge base. They come back and give the right answer. It’s learning while demonstrating; that’s what tests are supposed to be,” Ruffolo said.

Third-place ties went to Centerville High School and Northwest Collegiate Academy of Erie, Pa.

Jackson-Milton High School team members said they liked competing Saturday even if they hadn’t brought in many points midway through the competition.

“We do it mostly for fun,” said Tara Balsinger, 17, who said she enjoys biology and science as well as the opportunity to meet new people.

One of the team’s challenges involved speed.

“You have to be real quick to get in to answer it,” Balsinger said

Team captain Nick Suzelis, 17, agreed. “You have to be able to recall facts very quickly,” he said, and some teams, such as Northwest Collegiate Academy, are much quicker to hit the buzzer.”

“You guys have a more cautious approach,” said teacher and coach Stephen Mohr, who has coached students for the Penguin Bowl for the past four years.

The team also was short a member and had to add a person at the last minute.

“Thirty minutes before it started, they called me, and I’ve been holding my own against all the other schools,” said Matt Skrobut, 16, with a smile.

“He’s very intellectual,” Suzelis said.

Team member Drake Proverbs, 16, said it was her second year competing and that she enjoys the opportunity to meet other people with similar interests, especially coming from a small school.

“I think it’s really good. It allows kids to compete against other kids their age and test their scientific knowledge,” Mohr said, adding that even though the team didn’t win, “it’s still worth the experience.”

Each student participating in the event received more than $100 in admission tickets donated by local sponsors including the Pittsburgh Zoo, OH WOW! The Roger and Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science and Technology, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, the Akron Zoo, the National Aviary, Carnegie Science Center, Great Lakes Science Center, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Other sponsors include YSU, Cengage Learning, Slippery Rock University, Pearson Publishing and McGraw-Hill Education.