Waterford, NFA students practice to prepare for Quahog Bowl

Nicola Wiseman, second from right top, 16, a junior at Waterford High School, shares a laugh with fellow students from Norwich Free Academy and Waterford as they watch a small fish swim past a large sea raven in an aquarium on the Norwich campus. The group met to prepare for the Quahog Bowl, an oceanography competition among high schools in Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Nicola Wiseman, second from right top, 16, a junior at Waterford High School, shares a laugh with fellow students from Norwich Free Academy and Waterford as they watch a small fish swim past a large sea raven in an aquarium on the Norwich campus. The group met to prepare for the Quahog Bowl, an oceanography competition among high schools in Rhode Island and Connecticut. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo

Norwich - Competition took a back seat Thursday to an afternoon of friendly practice as teams from Norwich Free Academy and Waterford High School prepared for the upcoming regional Quahog Bowl Feb. 9 at the University of Connecticut's Avery Point campus.

The Quahog Bowl is the Connecticut-Rhode Island regional competition to qualify for the national Ocean Bowl, a stiff academic competition on all things oceanography.

"Characteristics of a western boundary current are the result of …" one preparatory question read Thursday, giving multiple choice answers. The correct answer is, "Rotation of the earth which presses water against the western edge."

Like sports team members from rival schools who get to know their opponents through repeat competition, summer camps and training, these Waterford High and NFA students could be best buddies away from the competition tables. But when handed the quiz buzzers facing question readers, science teacher Seth Yarish from NFA and Michael O'Connor from Waterford High School, the competition turns serious.

Students raced to buzz in first with the answers, but that, too, could prove costly. NFA senior Ethan Yarish of Oakdale buzzed too soon on one question - an interruption, according to the rules - and lost points when he answered slightly wrong. That gave his Waterford counterpart, Nicola Wiseman, enough of a hint to get the answer right, giving her team a bonus question.

Each school will send a five-member team to the regional competition. The joint practice session Thursday was the result of an even more intense rivalry that has emerged between the southeastern Connecticut schools and previous perennial regional champion, Cranston, R.I.

The goal last year, as the Waterford students put it, was "anybody but Cranston," so teams from Waterford, NFA, Ledyard High School and Bacon Academy in Colchester started working together to practice, share strategies and prepare for the competition. Ledyard High School won the 2012 Quahog Bowl, while NFA finished sixth and Waterford fourth.

"The goal this year is to do better than last year," Wiseman said.

Then the trash talk began, with NFA students vowing to best their Waterford rivals and vice versa.

"It's fun," NFA senior Kirby Green of Preston said. "I like creaming my friends."

"There's lots of trash talking involved," added Ethan Yarish, son of the NFA science teacher.

Several students on the Quahog Bowl teams said they want to study marine science after high school. Ethan Yarish was recently accepted to the University of Maine.

Thursday's practice session followed a morning of exams for the NFA students, who had a half day of school. When the Waterford students arrived, lunch was the first order of business, followed by a lively tour of NFA's new Long Island Sound aquarium laboratory.

NFA senior and Quahog Bowl senior team captain Taras Pleskin of Mystic showed off the giant 500-gallon round blue tank recently set up as the lab's centerpiece. The elaborate filter system not only removes contaminant particles from the water but also breaks down harmful bacteria, Pleskin said.

The tank can accommodate larger native fish, including small bluefish, small sand sharks and bass for studies not possible with the smaller tanks, he said.

In one recent experiment, Pleskin said, students tested the breathing rates of various fish as water temperature changed. By counting gill movement, the students learned breathing rates sped up when the temperature warmed and oxygen levels dropped in the water.

Seth Yarish said NFA's new marine and environmental sciences program, designed to prepare students for possible college and future careers in the field, also has helped them prepare for the rigorous Quahog Bowl and maybe the Ocean Bowl beyond that.

"It's not just your answer, but how you answer that counts," Seth Yarish said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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