I sit perched at the very front of my chair, leaning forward over the table with one hand holding a pencil and the other hovering over a buzzer, as I listen carefully to the moderator.
“Which of the following substances would be least likely to diffuse through a typical plasma membrane? W – propane; X – methanol; Y – potassium–”
The moderator is suddenly and jarringly interrupted before he can say “Z – carbon dioxide,” as a cacophony of eight buzzers being furiously and repeatedly pressed fills the room. Luckily, I see my buzzer’s light illuminate, and I know I have touched the button a fraction of a second before any of my teammates or opponents have. I confidently give my answer, “Y,” to the moderator, fully aware that everyone else knew the answer just as well as I did. I had simply reacted that fraction of a second more quickly to win a “buzzer race” and earn points and a bonus question for my team.
This is a typical moment in Science Bowl, a fiercely contested academic competition in which I participate as one member on a team of four. Many successful teams have just one prominent member, one who can correctly and quickly answer toss-up questions, but national winners are inevitably balanced teams that work as one to solve the challenging but much more valuable bonus questions. I am proud to be a member of a team that fits the latter model. In place of athletics, Science Bowl has taught me the value of both teamwork and individual effort, while simultaneously building strong friendships with my teammates and fellow participants. Most importantly, I find it exceptionally fun.
Perhaps the enjoyment I derive from Science Bowl is due to my closest friends, who are all either on my team or on a competing one. Perhaps it’s due to the thrill of making the key buzz in closely contested matches, my passion for learning science, or even the free trip to Washington, D.C., for the national competition. Most likely, though, it’s due to a combination all of these factors. Otherwise, I would find it difficult to explain my sitting awake on a Friday night four months from the regional competition and wishing that it took place the next day. I would also be hard-pressed to explain that my team and I have sleepovers at my house that involve answering sample questions and studying concepts we haven’t yet covered in class.
With that passion and dedication, which my teammates all share, we have advanced to the national level four times. In 2006, when we were in eighth grade and in our final year of the middle school competition, we found ourselves in the championship round, pitted against the previous year’s winners. The previous year, they had taken an unexpected come-from-behind victory against a team whose captain had earned the nickname “The Hammer” for his speed and forcefulness with the buzzer. We, however, could not recreate their impressive performance from the previous year and lost to them narrowly.
Since that second-place finish, our opponents have become stronger: we have advanced to the high school competition, where students are more motivated to do well, and interest in Science Bowl has steadily grown throughout our time as participants. For those reasons, we have not found quite the success we did in middle school, but ultimately, the national competition is less about your placement than it is about the experience of simply being there: the learning, the friendships, and the fun. I have grown even closer to my teammates as we immerse ourselves in the exciting atmosphere of a competition we all love. But the formation of new or strengthened bonds is not limited to those you know. In our first year at National Science Bowl in tenth grade, we befriended a dynamic and outgoing team, and conversed during our downtime about topics far more varied than the one at hand, indicating that our connection was deeper than that of mere acquaintances. We happened to compete against them, and lost, but we still watched excitedly as they, despite being unknown and relatively young, proceeded to handily defeat several established teams to place second. We all still regularly keep in touch.
Science Bowl is something that truly means a lot to me, and on multiple levels. My strong interest in science and my love for this competition each feed off the other, which will probably influence my choice of career. The opportunity those two passions give me to attend the national event is valuable for the friendships it builds and for the sheer enjoyment of it. It had also taught me a tremendous amount, both in science and in life. For me, it is more than just an activity. It is an integral part of being a student with a love of science.