Spring break is practice time for science Olympians

CALUMET – It may have been spring break last week for students at the Public Schools of Calumet, Laurium & Keweenaw, but for middle school Science Olympiad students it was also a time to practice.

Many of the team members spent part of last week at Washington Middle School preparing for the state competition on April 27.

The middle school team placed first at its regional competition, taking nine first-place finishes.

“Every year you have glitches during the tournament … but the team did a really good job of rising above them,” coach Darrell Hendrickson said.

Calumet High School’s team placed third in its division, coming within a point of advancing to the state competition.

Last week, eighth-graders Kiira Billeck and Brooke Tienhaara were working on a mousetrap-powered car, their favorite event. For the state competition, they’ll have to make the car travel distances that increase in half-meter increments, which were marked off on the hallway floor in tape.

Billeck decided to join last year after Hendrickson showed a video about Science Olympiad to his classes. She convinced her friend Tienhaara to join as well. Both say it was a good decision.

“Where else are you going to work on a car that’s powered by a mousetrap?” Billeck said.

Tienhaara said she enjoys the camaraderie on the team.

“It’s like a big family,” she said. “Nobody’s excluded.”

Some have had siblings on the team. Seventh-grader Abbey Koskiniemi was urged to join by her older sisters.

“I didn’t really like science at all,” she said. “They told me ‘not all of it’s science. It’s really fun. Try new things and enjoy it.’ I took their advice and it worked.”

Ilhan Onder also had an older sister on the team, and had tagged along to weekend practices. He said his favorite event is Mission Possible, when teams build a device to complete a task within a certain period of time.

“You drop one quarter in, and it lifts 250 grams of sand,” he said.

At the state competition, Washington will be going up against bigger schools where Science Olympiad work is done in class, eighth-grader Jacob Mihelich said. But he said he still expects the team to have a strong showing.

“We’re always improving,” he said.