Schools flex scientific muscles at Olympiad; 4 going to state

CHAMPAIGN – By 4 p.m. Saturday, the gym at Franklin Middle School – maximum occupancy 900 – teemed with screams, cheers and the screech of tennis shoes running across the floor.

Up until then, the competition was fierce.

Since 9 a.m., more than 200 students from area high schools and middle schools had vied for top honors at the Science Olympiad Regional Tournament.

The teams of 15 competed in different challenges, from hands-on lab experiments to designing and building prototypes, across five categories, including chemistry, engineering, technology and life sciences.

It was not unlike school athletics.

"It's a great opportunity for kids to excel in a different way," said Kathy Scherer, principal and team coach for St. Matthew Catholic Middle School.

The competition also gives students more hands-on experience in subjects they might not spend much time on in class, said Kevin Kuppler, a science teacher at Edison Middle School.

"Just like in sports, this is a wonderful opportunity for kids that this is their gift, this is their talent," Kuppler said.

Franklin Middle School students Jilli Walch, 12, and Alle Roley, 13, spent a few hours earlier in the week building a contraption using wood and PVC pipe that pushes a racquetball ball onto a target several feet away for the trajectory competition.

During the competition, the two adjusted a tube, measuring its angle with a protractor, before launching their ball.

"I really like math," Jilli said in response to why she joined the school's team. "It seemed like a lot of fun."

Tuscola High School students Shannon Breen, 18, and Maria DaSilva, 17, began practicing for the competition in January.

"We get to do more areas of science than in class," Breen said.

Three middle schools and one high school landed spots at the state competition. Scores were tallied from each category and awards were given to individual team members.

St. Matthew Catholic Middle School, Glenn Raymond Middle School, Franklin Middle School and Centennial High School all claimed a spot at the state competition. Edison Middle School placed fourth overall.

By 4 p.m. Saturday, as the winning schools were announced, screams and cheers erupted, cameras flashed and grinning students ran forward to claim their medals.

It was not unlike school athletics.

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