Munster High School science teacher Patrick O'Neill is confident the Science Olympiad team he helps coach has a shot at bringing home a first-place win from the national finals.
"The kids have performed in an impressive way. They are very, very strong and I am optimistic we can pull down a win. We're really aiming for that," O'Neill said.
The Munster High School team, which finished first in the state finals in Bloomington earlier this spring, is one of four area teams headed to the Science Olympiad National Finals in Orlando, Fla., this weekend.
Other area schools in the national competition include Whiting High in the high school division and Thomas Jefferson of Valparaiso and Wilbur Wright of Munster in the middle school division.
"Northwest Indiana was fairly dominant at the state competition," O'Neill said.
O'Neill, who attended Bloomington North High School and student taught at Bloomington South, said both high schools in that college community have had a winning tradition including 2001 and 2002 when he went to the national competition as a student.
"Bloomington has won state competition for several years but Munster has knocked them off for the last two years," O'Neill said.
This year Wilbur Wright, which placed second at the state level, will also be part of the competition.
"It's the first year both programs are going to nationals together," O'Neill said.
Whiting High, after placing second in the state competition, also earned the right to head to nationals, Whiting School Superintendent Sandra Martinez said.
"We're very proud of them. To qualify for nationals is the icing on the cake," Martinez said.
She credits Whiting High teachers Dan Nichols and Jeremy Long who have continue to coach the Science Olympiad team after just missing the qualifying mark by one place over the last three years.
"They have shown perseverance and hard work," Martinez said.
Richard Bender, a long-time coach of the Thomas Jefferson team, said this will be the 25th trip to the nationals for his school.
The Thomas Jefferson team won first place at the state level and is hoping for a national win.
Bender, a retired science teacher, said it takes hard work and commitment by all involved including the participating students who have trained two hours, five days a week since November.
"It's a big commitment and expectations are high," Bender said.
There will be 60 teams, all state champions or runner-ups, competing at both the high school and middle school level with 15 students making up a team.
Each team will be competing in a total of 23 events including science crime busters, experimental design and rubber band powered helicopters, Bender said.