Booth kids go for gold for 10th time

Tue, 05/12/2009 - 4:40pm
By: John Munford

This weekend, J.C. Booth Middle School’s Science Olympiad team will be seeking its 10th national title in competition at Augusta State University.

Advisor Mary Wilde’s top team of 15 students will be competing in the 23 various events, which run the gamut from academic tests to lab work and engineering challenges, such as constructing an airplane powered only by elastics. The goal is to keep the plane in flight as long as possible, and Booth’s squad has their plane up to three minutes in the air in trials, Wilde said.

The teams will also participate in the Scrambler event, in which an egg is mounted on the front of a car, also propelled only by elastics, which must brake quickly just ahead of a target so as not to damage the egg.

In another event, a robot is built and must pick up items and place them in boxes to complete the task.

Unlike school sports, Science Olympiad is a year-round commitment with work beginning in August and wrapping up in May.

This year is special though because it is Wilde’s swan song after 22 years dedicated to the program. She anticipates being involved some next year even in retirement as her daughter, Tammy Pakulski, takes over the Booth program.

Wilde wants to carry through with her commitment she has made to the younger generation, including the two county elementary school teams from Kedron and Huddleston that will compete at the state level this weekend. She also coaches those teams and hates that she will miss their events.

Wilde said the work, which involves an extra hour each day of instruction in each of the Olympiad categories, is rewarding because of the bond she develops with participants. The project is on a larger scale during the year because Booth fields three Science Olympiad teams though only the best squad is going to national competition, Wilde said.

The four main categories of the competition are chemistry/physics, biology, earth science and technology/scientific process, Wilde explained. Each student is responsible for three events, and two students from each team participate in each event.

Not only are individual medals and a championship trophy at stake, but also the potential for future college scholarships, Wilde said.

There’s also the potential for heartbreak, as the smallest of occurrences can mean the difference between coming home a champion or a runner-up, Wilde said.

The year-round preparation for Olympiad couldn’t happen without the support of each student’s family, as many parents either volunteer to help coach or raise funds or organize the efforts, Wilde said.

“It really is a family ordeal,” Wilde said.

One volunteer from Fayetteville, Dave Zeigler, works specifically with students on the airplane construction challenge alone, Wilde said. Wilde said she has also been pleased that her husband has helped over the years, joking that it has helped keep their marriage together.

In previous years, the teams have had lock-ins at the school to prepare for the national Olympiad. Parents this year funded a special retreat this past weekend that began with special instruction in Athens from the University of Georgia in chemistry, climate and reptiles that was incredibly worthwhile, Wilde said.

“They were so prepared for our kids,” Wilde said.

After that the team adjourned to Lake Oconee for the rest of the weekend, “playing during the day and working during the night,” Wilde said.

After an Olympic-style opening ceremony Friday, the students from each state will participate in a swap meet, trading items from their home state with each other. Wilde said it allows competitors to bond a bit before the competition starts on Saturday.

While it all sounds like fun and games, Olympiad can be very stressful for both students and parents, Wilde said. Usually the students handle adversity better than parents, she noted.

“They are definitely learning how to deal with pressure, and disappointment because you don’t always end up on top,” Wilde said.

Wilde feels her students are prepared to do their best at nationals, though.

“We have told them, ‘you have done all you can do,’” Wilde recalled. “You do everything you can and let the chips fall where they may.”

Wilde said she is amazed at how successful Science Olympiad is at convincing students, particularly females, to pursue careers in science from physicians to nurses and pharmacists. She has also had a number of students go on to aviation careers in the United States Air Force.

She knows their paths because so many return to visit her. The relationship between teacher and student is forged by the extra academic work, to the point that Wilde has to pencil in former students’ weddings on her social calendar.

As for her impending retirement, Wilde hasn’t even thought about how to live it up. There’s a big competition to get out of the way first.

“I guess I’ll worry about that when this is all over,” Wilde said.

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Submitted by fernkids2 on Thu, 05/14/2009 - 7:26am.

Best of luck to a hard working group of kids and coaches. From a Bennett's Mill Middle School Parent, we all wish you the best!

Submitted by maggie on Tue, 05/12/2009 - 8:16pm.

for such a great article on the Booth SO team. Best of luck, Booth!!!

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