The Staples High School girls and boys basketball teams — both enjoying their best seasons in decades — saw their state tournament hopes suddenly end. No one knows what will happen to spring sports, though that season seems increasingly unlikely.
But Westport athletes were not the only ones whose seasons came to a brutal end, thanks to the coronavirus.
At Bedford Middle School and Staples High, dozens of students were preparing for the state — and hopefully national — Science Olympiad competitions. They, their teachers and advisors had spent hundreds of hours since August researching, designing and studying.
Building on last year’s success — both teams represented Connecticut at the national tourney at Cornell University (for Bedford, the 3rd trip in 5 years) — the squads felt confident.
Science Olympians don’t get the publicity or prestige — and certainly not the crowds — of basketball players. But in the highly competitive world of science contests, the Westporters are superstars.
The Bedford program began 9 years ago. Engineering and design teacher Art Ellis is the driving force — the Geno Auriemma of Science Olympiads. He’s assisted by Dr. Daniel Cortright, a BMS science teacher.
This year — with Coleytown students attending Bedford — the middle school teams merged. CMS engineering and design teacher Keenan Grace brought his students on board, with great success.
Science Olympiads consist of 23 events. Each team — usually 15 students — competes in all 23. (This year’s BMS squad included about 75 youngsters. Including various invitational meets, 50 or so got actual competitive experience.)
The events range from building a structure, vehicle or flying object, to tests in areas like geology, meteorology and anatomy, to hybrid, chemistry lab-style activities.
There are activities too like “Crime Busters,” for forensic analysis.
Then there is “Disease Detectives.”
Developed long before COVID-19 spread across the globe, this Science Olympiad event asks students to examine — and solve — disease outbreaks.
At the national high school tournament, the CDC gives an award to the winner of this event — plus an expense-paid trip to its headquarters in Washington, DC.
Many of the middle school Disease Detectives questions have revolved around food-borne illnesses. They’re fairly straightforward to analyze, Cortright says.
Not long ago, he and Ellis talked about possible tournament questions. They guessed there would be some about pathogens like COVID-19. They started preparing their team for them.
But before they could solve the problem — or at least, address it — the state and national tournaments were canceled.
The Westport Public Schools have moved to distance learning. Activities like Science Olympiad are on hold.
But if anyone can figure out how to adapt to our new reality — and (who knows?) come up with a way to solve or even prevent future disease outbreaks — it’s these young superstars.
In related Science Olympiad news, 4 members of Staples’ team were also involved in the M3Mathworks Math Modeling Challenge.
Formerly called Moody’s Math Challenge, it’s certainly challenging. Teams of 5 students represent their schools, using math to solve a real world problem.
They meet outside of school, download the problem, then work together continuously for 14 hours. The winning solution earns a large cash prize for the school.
Staples’ team — including those 4 Special Olympians — worked together on the problem before social distancing began.
This year’s involved electric trucks. Specifically, contestants had to make intelligent decisions about the necessary charging infrastructure is complex, and weigh economic and environmental implications for communities surrounding trucking corridors is essential. Over 750 teams competed.