Ledyard wins again at annual Quahog Bowl

Groton — Here's what you would have had to do to win the first single elimination round of the Quahog Bowl ocean science championship Saturday at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point.

Describe the changes in a tsunami's wavelength, celerity and height as it makes landfall (and know that celerity means speed). Answer a series of questions about various species of penguins. Remember the country hit by both an earthquake and a tsunami in 2017.

Here's how you would have had to win the second round: describe the oxygen concentration at certain depths of the ocean. Define the term 'biofouling.' Identify the International Whaling Commission as the principal body overseeing the conservation of whales. Know the chemical makeup of the venom left by a jellyfish sting.

On the eve of a New England Patriots Super Bowl, the minds of the 80 high school competitors at the Quahog Bowl, the regional competition whose winners go on to the National Ocean Sciences Bowl, were on anything but touchdowns: each team nervously walked around the Avery Point campus Saturday with visions of ocean currents and sea otters dancing in their heads.

Connecticut Sea Grant hosts and sponsors the Quahog Bowl, while the Consortium of Ocean Leadership organizes the National Ocean Sciences Bowl.

The Waterford High School team, a group of five freshmen and sophomores who paced anxiously around the UConn Avery Point student center, was ready.

Their coach, Michael O’Connor, sat the required five rows back in the auditorium silently nodding his head as his team went up against Storrs' E.O. Smith High School, a past winner of the Quahog Bowl and widely acknowledged as one of the top teams in the competition.

Waterford, one of 16 teams from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, managed a come-from-behind win against E.O. Smith, eliciting cheers from the crowd and an extra-vigorous head nod from O’Connor.

Meanwhile the Science and Technology Magnet School of Southeastern Connecticut's B team was busy making it to the seventh round of the competition after only two weeks of practice as a team.

"None of them had any tournament practice," said Charles Mulligan, an environmental science and oceanology teacher who had been coaching the team since the beginning of the school year using old Quahog Bowl questions and real buzzers.

The competition was steep.

Waterford later lost to Glastonbury High School, an underdog group that went on to lose the competition — by only two points — to Ledyard High School in the last round of the day.

The timing of the 21st Quahog Bowl the day before the Super Bowl was coincidental, said Diana Payne, the Connecticut Sea Grant education coordinator who organized Saturday's event.

But, she said, the competitive format can make learning about ocean sciences more fun for the students and gives them exposure to higher education and professional opportunities.

As Saturday morning turned into afternoon, the rounds went by fast and the questions only kept getting harder. The judges could lob anything from literature to physics at the contestants in the same breath.

The Ledyard team was stumped early on by a question about a 1961 effort to drill through ocean crust to the Earth's mantle. It was called Project Mohole, but Ledyard High School junior Eric Banach said his team didn't know that, and took a stab at an answer based on a clue from the judges: that novelist John Steinbeck had covered the project for Life magazine.

"We went with Operation Steinbeck," Banach said, laughing.

No matter — Ledyard High School still won a third Quahog Bowl victory in the end, despite a valiant effort by Glastonbury's team. The Ledyard team will travel to Boulder, Colo., for the National Ocean Sciences Bowl in April.

m.shanahan@theday.com

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