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SAMOHI Teens Win Science Bowl Honors  

By Ann K. Williams
Lookout Staff

February 18, 2011 -- President Barack Obama wants the media to celebrate the kids who win science bowls, and here in Santa Monica we have some of those winners.

They're a team of four bright science enthusiasts from Santa Monica High School who've won the Southern California Regional Ocean Sciences Bowl – otherwise known as the “Surf Bowl” – and are on their way to the nationals in Galveston, Texas in April.

Dana Ritchie, Zack Gold, Mari LeGagnoux and Madeleine Youngs, Surf Bowl Winners. Photo by Ann K. Williams

Juniors Mari LeGagnoux and Dana Ritchie and Seniors Madeleine Youngs and Zack Gold will face off against 2,000 students from more than 300 high schools nationwide, answering questions on the theme: “Human Responses to Ocean Events.”

They think their chances are good.

“We are friends. We're really good with each other.,” LeGagnoux, Ritchie and Youngs said, pretty much at the same time, finishing each other sentences.

“We have these tacit codes – we know what we're thinking.”

“We're going to have fun, and hopefully kick some butt,” Ritchie said.

Last year, the SAMOHI team almost won the regionals, but was aced out at the last moment when one of their teammates guessed wrong on the last question in the competition.

This year, they've been prepping hard. Coach and science teacher Ingo Gaida prepares packets of questions culled from textbooks, and Gold has been pursuing his own line of study.

“Zack goes to wikipedia a lot and memorizes whatever's there,” LeGagnoux said.

“I'm going to learn all of Wikipedia,” Gold laughs.

He already has a leg up, having traveled to coastlines around the world. Gold has been to the Great Barrier Reef, the Galapagos islands and Belize, and is a member of SAMOHI's Heal the Bay/Surfrider Club.

He and his fellow clubmembers take water samples from the ocean off Santa Monica's beaches and post the results on boards displayed for the public.

The ocean bowl team is serious about the object of their next competition, and the students are eager to share what they know.

They'll be competing at the site of the greatest natural disaster in United States history, Youngs said. In 1900, Galveston was hit by a hurricane that killed some 10,000 people, largely because the city wasn't evacuated, she said.

More recently, it's been in the path of Hurricane Rita and last year's BP Oil Spill – making it the right place for scholars to examine, well, “Human Responses to Ocean Events.”

When the team returns, victorious or no, these students expect to keep on studying science.

Given Gold's extracurricular activities, it's no surprise that he wants to major in marine biology and environmental science, and Youngs is pretty sure she has a future studying the interaction between the ocean and the atmosphere.

Legagnoux wants to be a medical researcher, and Ritchie has an enthusiasm for surgery, a career choice that inspired some joking comments about cadavers from her teammates.

But they do have to do some serious studying now, to get ready for the Jeopardy-style competition in Texas. The Wrigley Institute and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will pay the SAMOHI team's way to the National Ocean Sciences Bowl.

The top three or four teams who compete there will stand a chance of winning “experiential,” hands-on” trips to places like Costa Rica, Bermuda and Hawaii.

But the SAMOHI team has a more personal motivation. Gold will be celebrating his birthday in Galveston.

“Your birthday present is going to be we're going to win,” said LeGagnoux.


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