NA teams sweep top prizes in Western PA science bowl

Teams from North Allegheny Senior High School and Marshall Middle School each won first place and swept the recent 31st Western Pennsylvania Science Bowl Competition.

The event featured 41 teams from 27 high schools and 30 teams from 17 middle schools in the region. Each participating school was allowed two teams.

North Allegheny Senior High’s Team One – consisting of Srivatsa Bellamkonda, Claire Zheng, William Sun, Pradyun Solai, and Anshul Shah – won the senior high school competition.

Marshall Middle School’s Team One – Kavin Puri, Sameer Gosalia, Samuel Xiao, Aaron Liu and Audrey Zheng – won the middle school competition.

Each team will go on to participate in the National Science Bowl representing Western Pennsylvania.

NA’s senior high Team Two – Adi Mallik, Nakul Solai, Grace Wang and twin brothers Glen and George Jiang – took second place in the high school competition.

NA’s Ingomar Middle School took fourth place in the middle school competition. NA’s Carson Middle had a team in the top eight.

Many of those competed from North Allegheny participate in GOAL, North Allegheny’s gifted education program, according to Cris Ruffolo, the gifted education teacher at the high school and coach of the high school teams. High school gifted education teacher John Harrell was co-coach with Ruffolo.

Science Bowl questions are based on math, chemistry, physics, biology and earth and science, Ruffolo said. The students work hard to be ready for the competition.

“They are such dedicated learners. If they don’t know it, they will learn it, ”she said

High schools competed Feb. 26 and middle schools March 5. The competition is sponsored by the US Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.

Dan Williams is a GOAL teacher and coach for the Marshall Middle School team. Most middle school competitors are usually in seventh and eighth grade, using high school textbooks to prepare. Marshall Middle has won the regional competition almost 10 times, said Williams, who’s been at NA for 22 years.

“They do such a good job. It’s really driven by them. Every year, win or lose, they amaze me, ”said Williams, of Ben Avon.

The Science Bowl has been held virtually over a Zoom call for the past two years, with students calling in from separate locations to answer questions together, as they were not allowed to be in the same room with each other, Ruffolo said. The same questions are given to all teams, and the highest scorers win.

Each question is a “toss up” worth four points. Right answers allow the team to move on to bonus questions worth more.

Samuel Xiao, an eighth-grader who competed on the Marshall team last year and this year, said there’s a lot of cramming and after-school practices, but the competition itself is fun.

Xiao said competitors are allowed to communicate via chat. Since they have only seven seconds to answer the first, toss-up question, they have to decide pretty quickly on an answer. The follow-up, bonus question has a 22-second period to answer.

The Department of Energy’s National Science Bowl will happen virtually April 29-May 3.

Ruffolo said the competition is probably the premiere student competition in the United States, so NA moving to the next round is a big accomplishment.

“The kids are having fun. They like learning, and they form strong bonds with each other, ”she said.

The majority of gifted education students want to be part of the competition, but Ruffolo has to decide which ones will compete. It’s hard to choose because “there are so many kids who could make a contribution to a team,” she said.

Schools are allowed teams of four students with one alternate.

The first introduction to the Science Bowl occurs in middle school. Williams said by the time these students reach high school they are well-versed in chemistry and physics.

“They do the competition in middle school and like it, and they keep it going. They come to the high school incredibly prepared, ”said Ruffolo, who has taught at North Allegheny for 25 years.

In the fall, students practiced by answering questions and participating in drills, she said.

The science department provides the educational foundation, she said. Families provide support to the students.

Ruffolo said a pair of competed sisters: Claire Zheng for the high school and Audrey Zheng for the Marshall Middle School.

Before covid, the competitions were held in-person and in a different format, with teams competing individually instead of a “head-to-head” format, according to the National Energy Technology Laboratory.

Ruffolo, of McCandless, said despite a wrong or right answer, the students always cheer each other on and support one another.

Xiao, of Marshall Township, said there were a lot of students from Marshall who worked hard, and winning was a “team effort.” They were all appreciative of Williams for the support and for holding the after-school practices. And they were thankful Williams bought them all donuts to celebrate winning, Xaio said.

Xiao, 13, recommends fellow students try out for the competition, especially math and science.

“Try your best, and you’ll probably do better than you thought,” he said.

Ruffolo is also the coach for the NA team for the Hometown High Q on KDKA, which recently competed against Beaver County’s Hopewell Senior High School and Oakmont’s Riverview High School. The episodes are scheduled to air at 11 am April 9 and re-run at 11:30 am on April 16.

Natalie Beneviat is a Trib Total Media contributing writer.

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