LIMESTONE, Maine — Five students from the Maine School of Science and Mathematics are heading to Washington, D.C., next month to participate in a national science competition after winning the regional Maine Science Bowl competition held at the University of Southern Maine, Gorham campus last weekend.

The MSSM team of Roger Van Peski, captain, of Northport; Rachel Olugbemi of Presque Isle; William Popov of Presque Isle; Belle O’Bryon of Northport; and Lucy Wilcox of New Gloucester beat out the science bowl squad from Bangor High School to take the top spot and earn a berth at the national competition.

MSSM fielded two teams at the competition.

“Both teams did a great job,” said Dr. Deb Eustis-Grandy, MSSM science department chair and team coach. “The winning team is very excited to be travelling to Washington, D.C., in April.”

Team members met on a regular basis to practice for the competition which followed a “Jeopardy” quiz-show format with participants buzzing in to respond to questions covering biology, earth sciences, mathematics, chemistry, physics and astronomy.

Those practice sessions, coupled with the regular MSSM course curriculum, left the students well prepared for the competition, according to Eustis-Grandy.

“I always thought they should know all the answers, especially if it was something we had just covered in class,” she said. “If they did not, all I could do was give [them] sour looks.”

Not only did the practice sessions help student review question topics, it familiarized them with the contest rules and format, something they agree gave them a leg up.

“We’d meet with Dr. Eustis-Grandy in the morning twice a week and practice problems like we were in the competition [and] we had an actual buzzy thing,” Olugbemi said. “The pressure of the actual competition was a lot more intense than in practice, but we felt really well prepared.”

Van Peski agreed.

“There were a lot of teams which did not understand the rules and lost points because of it,” he said. “We were really very prepared.”

MSSM’s winning team will compete at the National Science Bowl finals to be held April 25-29.

The winning team members each received a Nook eReader. In addition, the team gets an all-expense paid trip to the national competition in Washington, covered by the U.S. Department of Energy, sponsor of the Science Bowl.

“This is really nice because it gets the kids out to see what other schools are up to science-wise,” Eustis-Grandy said. “It’s also a venue for them to show off what they have learned, [and] I was very proud of them.”

The professor said she was “cautiously optimistic” about the team’s chances going in, but admitted to some tense moments.

“I can’t do anything but watch,” she said. “I can only sit there and get more gray hairs.”

This was not the school’s first trip to the regional science bowl, which they also won in 2006. The MSSM team placed third in 2009, second in 2010 and fourth last year, according to Eustis-Grandy.

Seventeen teams from 11 Maine schools competed in Portland.

“This was really a fun experience,” Olugbemi said. “I would encourage anyone that wants to do it to do so.”

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.