JDHS science team eyes nationals

Coach says this year's win is 'icing on the cake' as he retires from teaching

Posted: Thursday, February 22, 2007

Juneau-Douglas High School devastated its opponents at this year's "Tsunami Bowl" and swept the top three spots of the regional ocean science competition.

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Now the team is headed to represent Alaska at the National Ocean Science Bowl - the official name of the competition - in Stony Brook, N.Y.

The team of junior Drake Skaggs and seniors Hillary Buck, Eva Ceder and Deidre Ratigandominated a day-long contest on Feb. 10 in Seward.

The team will travel with coach Ben Carney and advisor Clay Good to Stony Brook, on Long Island, in late April.

"It's a pretty intense atmosphere," said Skaggs, the team captain.

The team had come away empty-handed from last year's regional competition and was looking for some redemption this year, he said.

"There were a couple of teams that we were definitely looking out for, like Cordova," Skaggs said. "They're kind of our rivals and we ended up beating them this year, so that was quite satisfying."

Tenakee Springs, Unalaska and Soldotna also each sent a team to the competition. Kenny Lake from the Interior sent two teams and JDHS had three teams.

Skaggs, Buck, Ceder and Ratigan not only won the trip to New York but also earned a tuition waiver from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Carney, as the team's coach, received a tuition waiver for a marine science course for teachers this summer through UAF.

"We have a group of hardworking kids," Carney said. "Juneau was represented by 14 teenagers who worked hard for several months to prepare for this competition and it showed."

Good said the team thrived under pressure in the rapid-fire quiz-style competition, which also included written questions.

"As an ensemble, they are like four minds melded into one," he said. "They are poster children for what a team should look like."

Ceder said the experience at the regional competition will benefit them as they take on kids from across the country.

"Our team worked really well together, and I think we found out that we work really well under pressure," she said. "We're ready to see what the nation is like for competition and show them that we are a force up here in Alaska."

Juneau's close interdependence with the ocean gave the students a strong foundation going into the regional competition, Buck said.

"Juneau has a very large scientific field in general and we can tap into that as a resource," she said.

Carney said local agencies such as the National Marine Fisheries Service lab in Auke Bay and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are a tremendous benefit to the students.

"I certainly think that the influence of our marine environment here in Juneau assisted us at the state level," he said.

Although the Juneau teams spent plenty of time studying, the competition wasn't easy, Skaggs said.

"Some of the questions were just way off the hook, like the scientific name of the blue whale," he said. (It's Sibbaldus musculus.)

The team met Wednesday afternoon to discuss preparation for the national competition. Skaggs said they haven't decided how hard to prepare.

"We're a pretty vivacious team so we will probably go the hard route and kick it up a couple of notches," he said. "Nationals will be fantastic, regardless. We're kind of looking at matching wits with kids from around the nation."

Good, who has been accompanying teams since the competition began 10 years ago, said this year's performance has been especially sweet.

"This is my last year teaching, so it kind of makes it like the icing on the cake for me," he said. "It's like tying up one loose end in my busy career before I leave the room."

Next year's national competition will be held in Alaska for the first time, when UAF will host 26 teams from across the nation in Seward.

• Eric Morrison can be reached at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.

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