VALPARAISO | Eight high schools and 11 middle schools will send students to Indiana University in Bloomington for the Indiana Science Olympiad State Tournament on Saturday to vie for four coveted spots to compete at the national level.
Science Olympiad competitions consist of 23 team events in areas of genetics, earth science, chemistry, anatomy, physics, geology, mechanical engineering and technology. Emphasis is placed on active, hands-on group participation.
Tina Gilliland, director for the tournament, said there will be more teams competing this year and more teams qualifying for nationals as well.
“Indiana had a slight increase in the number of teams statewide that participate at regional tournaments, so this year is the largest tournament we’ve had," Gilliland said. "There are 30 middle school teams and 30 high school teams, where there were only 26 in each division as far back as I can remember. And we found out this week that we will send the top two teams in each division to advance to nationals.”
Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Valparaiso won its regional tournament and advances with high hopes. With 21 state championships under their belts, along with 24 trips to nationals since 1986, and coach Rich Bender says his team of 15 members has been practicing for months.
“They’re great kids. We have a lot of support from the parents and community and I’m really grateful for that. I feel strongly about the team. The kids have been enjoyable to work with and they’re well prepared. We had a strong regional showing, and if that’s an indicator of how we’ll do, then we’ll be competitive,” Bender said.
In Merrillville, Clifford Pierce Middle School coach Monica Yacko said her team is “a very large team, 22 kids with 11 boys and 11 girls."
"I’m really pleased with this team this year," she said. "They worked hard a lot on their own. We don’t have our own coaching staff or a cadre of parents. But I’m very very happy with this team, and we made a nice showing this year. We’re moving forward. I’m excited to advance and hope to incite them to science careers.”
Chesterton Middle School coach Samantha Hayes said she too looks forward to a strong showing.
“We have 21 members and we are doing 23 events. We are really excited. We have been in the top five in the past three years so we are hoping to sneak into the top two so we can go to nationals. We are knocking on the door.
"We started the year with a lot of new people, which often doesn’t go well because they don’t know the routine," Hayes said. "But with practice, our rookies have done an impressive job of really growing. I’ve seen the most improvement ever from my new people. My newbies are very inspiring.”
Many teams, regional and statewide, have help from local volunteers who give time to help prepare their students, and the state tournament uses volunteers as well.
“The state tournament would not be possible without the community," Gilliland said. "Indiana University is the host this year and we have faculty, staff and students involved and also nearly 300 volunteers who come from all over Indiana and Illinois, including the Museum of Science and Industry and amateur radio personnel who serve as our eyes and ears to solve problems throughout the day. They work hard to get kids educated in and excited about science, and that’s something Indiana should be very proud of.”
Schools competing at the middle school level include Taft Middle School in Crown Point, Wilbur Wright Middle School in Munster, the Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, George Rogers Clark Middle School in Whiting, Ben Franklin Middle School in Valparaiso, Kahler Middle School in Dyer, St. John the Baptist School in Whiting, St. Patrick’s School in Chesterton, Chesterton Middle School, Clifford Pierce Middle School in Merrillville, and Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Valparaiso.
Schools competing at the high school level include Valparaiso High School, Chesterton High School, Michigan City High School, Munster High School, La Lumiere in LaPorte, East Chicago Central High School, Whiting High School, and Morton High School in Hammond.
The national tournament takes place May 17 to 18 at Wright State University in Ohio.