In 1997 we moved a reluctant 7th grader 90 miles north to a new life, new district, new school. Elizabeth had already made quite a name for herself in the music, math and science programs at her previous schools and we were anxious to get her involved in something similar as soon as possible. Without much idea of what we were getting into, we encouraged her to try out for a spot on the middle school Science Olympiad team.
Unknowingly, we had stumbled on to one of the finest middle school teams in the state. Within 6 years, they qualified for National competition 5 times. Parental help was an expectation, and Dave and I discovered niches we hadn't looked for, but came to love, as "parent coaches". Dave coached winning teams of bridge builders, tower constructors and model airplane pilots. I quickly garnered a reputation as a very versatile coach, working with helium balloon lofts, graph and chart events, metric measurement and estimation, climate, oceanography, physics, chemistry. There's no question in my mind that the coaching helped me last year when I attempted teaching certification in "Composite Sciences" for the state of Texas...I'd been reviewing for years!
As our children grew, each one earned a place on the middle school team, then advanced to the high school level. We learned to work around after-school practices, Saturday reviews and the weekend tournaments each year; Regional Qualifiers, then in late April, the State event. The school teams were excellent, each year the competition became more intense, the honor of reaching the State level more satisfying.
And each year, the family collection of medals grew.
Elizabeth stood out in middle school for her computer skills. Before the days of "Google", she was an expert (and State Champion) at combining keyboard and language in internet searches. We watched her friends grow up, graduate and move on, and last year, one of my early coaching proteges ended up working with Dave in the professional engineering world. We watched in awe as her team captured the first State championship of several we were to experience and wished her team well as they went off to the University of Chicago.
In the following years, at least one child would participate in National Competitions in Colorado, Delaware and Pennsylvania. They learned the finer points of group dynamics, tour buses, shared hotel rooms and time schedules. As parent/coaches, one or both of us went along on most of these trips. We were honored to be a part of "that Texas team" with its signature black cowboy hats, neat tucked-in logo shirts and blue jeans.
And the medals kept on coming home.
When Alex was in middle school, a last minute event change meant that he'd be competing in an event he'd never studied for. In what I consider one of my finest moments of parenting, I drew on what I remembered from long-ago chemistry classes and coached him for just 3 days in "Polymer Science". He represented his school alone, without an event partner, and placed first in the state competition. Never mind the parenting...the child was willing and capable. The honor was his. At the high school level, he earned a reputation as a meticulous detail man in balsa wood construction. He, his event partner and Dave spent many afternoons fine-tuning wings and propellers and occasionally watching a competition-worthy plane fly directly into a gymnasium basketball hoop.
Two years behind, Isaac observed and absorbed the knowledge. His forte has always been memory/recall and he quickly earned the respect of students, teachers and coaches in a variety of "academic events". Oceans. Glaciers. Insects. Water chemistry. Ecology. One year at the State level, he had the distinction of medaling in 3 out of his 4 events.
I have great respect for the teachers who orchestrate the practices and the paperwork to make this event what it is. I'm proud to count several of our children's teacher/coaches as my mentors as I begin my own teaching career. In a world where the headlines include teenagers who seek to break down and destroy, it has been an honor to work closely with some of those who search for excellence and aren't afraid of the hard work necessary to achieve it.
In Texas, the competition has become fierce. More and more schools participate, and there are more levels to the competition...not just anyone can go to "State". A few years ago, Regional qualifying tournaments were introduced, and the State competition was capped at 30 teams. A school team that advances to the State level has every right to be proud of the accomplishment. Regional competitions allow more local participation, and I'm always happy to hear the name of a "new" participating school. Best of luck to them...I hope they'll be back next year, and the next, and the next.
This weekend was the 2008 Science Olympiad Texas State Tournament, and late last night, 4 weeks away from high school graduation, Isaac arrived home triumphantly displaying his final medal in the Science Olympiad. Second place silver in "Environmental Chemistry". A brilliant finish to something that has bound our family together for 10 years. It's truly the end of an era.