Maui High team on top at state Science Bowl

Shortly after Maui High School’s Science Bowl Team won the state Science Bowl championship on Oahu, team captain Steven Okada was on the airplane ride home already creating a topic list for the team to study for its trip to the national competition in Maryland in April.

“Placing at nationals would be amazing. But I’m already very happy with how well the team has performed so far,” he said via text message Sunday afternoon. “The national competition is a challenge I’m looking forward to.”

On Saturday, the Maui High team went undefeated throughout the Hawaii Regional Science Bowl, in which they were asked questions from areas that included chemistry, physics, biology, math, and earth and space science. The team members and their coach noted that the questions involved not only college-type material but were more geared toward research-level knowledge or for professionals working in the various science fields.

Nearly 20 teams competed at the event at Honolulu Community College. The Sabers won seven matches to assume the title by beating Iolani, last year’s winners. This is Maui High’s fifth state title since 2002.

“It was kind of special,” said coach Ed Ginoza of Saturday’s win. “Last year we lost to Iolani in the semi-finals.”

Team member Gabriel Salazar, a junior, said in an email: “A great sigh of relief rushed through our bodies after we won, because we know how hard the team and Mr. Ginoza has worked preparing for this competition.”

The youngest team member, sophomore Christopher Kim, said that Okada had told them to play with a “confident mindset” and believe they were the best team there, which Kim said was a strategy that paid off.

The team also includes Bryson Galapon and Riley Camp, both juniors.

All five teens are also on the school’s Ocean Science Bowl and will compete for the state title on Oahu at the “Aloha Bowl,” the annual Hawaii regional competition for the National Ocean Science Bowl in February on the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus. Maui High is the reigning state champion, which also took sixth-place honors in last year’s national Ocean Science Bowl competition.

As for the Science Bowl, Ginoza said that the competition was more challenging this year than in years past.

“There weren’t many easy questions. . . . A lot of the questions were research questions, (for) people who do research or work in the industry.”

Salazar agreed, noting that after the team won a few matches, he was still unsure of how his team would fare.

“I felt anything could happen as the questions this year were really tough. In some instances, it became a game of who could make the best educated guess,” he wrote.

For example, Ginoza said that one of the easier questions asked about how a pendulum would react in gravity forces other than Earth’s.

In interpreting the question for a reporter to understand, Ginoza said basically the question asked what would one need to do if something like a cuckoo clock were taken to the moon or other planet and you wanted the clock to tell time the same way it does on Earth.

Ginoza, a retired Maui High School science teacher, said that the students prepared for the competition by going over old practice examples.

He said that if the students got questions wrong, they didn’t just memorize the correct answers but looked at the concepts around the problem.

The preparation was like practicing for an exam, he said. Students also needed to read the glossaries of scientific terms as well, so they could understand the complicated questions.

They also studied the history behind the experiments and science.

“It’s really, really a huge undertaking,” Ginoza said. “You are dealing with so many different subjects.”

Some of those subjects were also new for those on the team. Some needed to learn trigonometry and calculus through other teammates as they have not yet taken those courses.

“They do a lot more work (for the competition) than what they do in regular classes,” Ginoza said.

Kim gave kudos to Ginoza and said that the team’s success wouldn’t be possible if he weren’t there to help them.

“Under his leadership and guidance we truly matured, and we’ve learned so much. The more important thing than winning is the actual learning that has taken place,” Kim said Sunday afternoon. “I think I’ve learned so much during my freshman and sophomore years than I could ever imagine because of Science Bowl.”

But the students also took the learning upon themselves and would meet three hours a day and even on long weekends, Ginoza said.

He added that the team is close and that preparing for the competition is actually fun as they have their own buzzer system, like those used in the actual competition, and the teens compete with one another for practice.

Ginoza said he believes that the competition and studying for the event give the teens self-confidence, which is hard to come by for public school students and those from the Neighbor Islands, especially when they compete against the top private schools in the state.

“They don’t have the confidence that they can compete. It shows them, number one, they can compete against the Iolanis and the Punahous,” which are private schools on Oahu.

Ginoza added that the competition also prepares the students for college and real life, in which they need to do a lot of the studying and work on their own.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at