By Sabrina Robertson
NATCHEZ — Cathedral High School’s Science Olympiad Team recently won its third consecutive state championship, which qualifies the team for a seat in the national competition this summer at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
One of the team’s coaches, Jessie Wallace, said the Science Olympiad is a nationally recognized program that tests students’ skills and knowledge in various scientific fields, including anatomy and physiology, geology, physics, chemistry, herpetology, forensics, thermodynamics and more.
After winning first place for two consecutive state championships in 2017 and 2018, Cathedral students advanced to the national competitions at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Wallace said.
Cathedral’s team has two team captains, Will Vaughan and Samuel Freiberger, both seniors, and 14 members who each participated in different areas of the state competition on March 22 in Hattiesburg and won first-place overall.
“I had to fly a model airplane for as long as it could go around a gym,” Vaughan said. “The plane came in a kit that I had to build from, but I had to modify it to make it fly longer without breaking specific rules.”
Vaughan said he built his plane using balsa wood, carbon fiber and powered it using only a rubber band. In another competition, called ‘Code Busters,’ Vaughan said he had to crack ciphers and codes using different techniques while Freiberger said he competed in various labs and was quizzed on chemical equations and conducted his own experiments.
Other members of the prize-winning team are seniors, Mallory Hinson, Damira McGruder, Cameron Verser and Markayla Fleming; juniors, Alex Dale, Fisher Iseminger, Kirsten Sanguinetti and Faith Anne Brown; sophomores, Ryan Skates, Priya Brown and Lilly Drane; and freshmen, Dean Hunstock, Paxton Junkin and Cate Drane.
The captains said each teammate gave an equal effort while the coaches and parents worked just as hard from the sidelines.
“I think we all work pretty well together, and we all know each other,” Vaughan said.
“Behind the scenes, coach Wallace and all of the parents who stay up with us, sometimes until 2 a.m., just working on stuff. … Parents bring us food and give up a lot of Sunday afternoons.”
“We’ve practiced pretty much every day,” Freiberger said. “None of us left school until 5 p.m. a lot of days — we put in maybe 14 hours a week when you add it all up. … It’s just fun.”
All of the hard work and study paid off, Wallace said, as the students excelled in both the regional competition earlier this year and the state competition last month, where they bested the top 20 teams in the state. The students took home nearly 30 medals altogether, including 10 gold, eight silver and 9 bronze, she said.
“Three consecutive state championships speaks a lot of these students,” Wallace said. “This time of year especially is very busy for them, with sports and term papers due. … For them to be able to stay at school late and devote so much time to this is amazing.”
Though incoming freshmen join Cathedral’s Science Olympiads each year, many of the team’s members are not new to the national competition, Freiberger said, adding he and a few others in his class had been members of the Science Olympiads for four of the five years since Cathedral started a team.
“Some of us have been on the team since our freshman year, and every year we add new people,” he said.
Cathedral students have ranked in the top 60 out of 7,600 teams nationwide for the past two years and aim to do just as well or better for the team’s third trip to nationals on May 31 in New York, Freiberger said.
“Our goal every year has been to improve,” he said. “Our first year we ranked number 58 and last year we were 53. This year we hope to make it in the 40s.”
Wallace said the students are currently fundraising for their next national competition and are asking for help from sponsors to raise approximately $17,000 needed for team members and the coaches to make the trip.
To contribute, Wallace said sponsors should make checks payable to Cathedral School with a notation that the donation is for the Science Olympiad Team. Checks can be mailed or dropped off in the high school office at 701 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Street. For more information, call 601-493-4468 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Reprinted with permission from The Natchez Democrat.)