The Science of Winning

Curiosity and the thrill of competition drive five Maui High School students to spend hours preparing for science competitions that feature concepts that may seem mundane or complex to the ordinary person but, for the students, are interesting yet way beyond their high school studies.

Maui High School junior Riley Camp, who is part of Maui High School’s two winning science competition teams, said that he has a “natural interest in science” and finds understanding and learning about new things fun.

The Wailuku resident, who is considering studying aerospace engineering in college, said that he enjoys competition, especially when he and his teammates can see how their hard work pays off.

MHS coach and retired science teacher Ed Ginoza added: “My philosophy, is always, nothing is interesting until you understand it. Once you understand it, then everything is interesting.”

Ginoza said that the more science material he gives senior Steven Okada “the more fascinated he gets.”

Okada, captain for both Maui High’s state champion Science Bowl and Ocean Science Bowl teams, will breeze through science books in two days, Ginoza said.

He added that even after the students practice and compete with one another several hours a day, some students are disappointed when it’s time to go home, as they enjoy the competition. Students want to meet during vacations, and one suggested meeting over the summer to prepare and study for the competition, Ginoza added.

On Saturday, Okada and his Maui High School Ocean Science Bowl team captured the Aloha Bowl Regional Ocean Science Competition at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

King Kekaulike High School’s team placed fourth in the competition, which featured 13 Hawaii teams, Ginoza said.

Defending champion Maui High beat Oahu private school Punahou twice to be crowned the champion.

Last year, the Sabers went to the National Ocean Science Bowl, where they finished sixth in the competition.

On Jan. 26, the same Maui High lineup, which also includes juniors Bryson Galapon and Gabriel Salazar and sophomore Christopher Kim, took the state Science Bowl championship. The public high school defeated an Oahu private school, Iolani, to take the title. The Science Bowl win was the Sabers’ fifth state title since 2002. They advance to the national finals in Chevy Chase, Md., from April 25 to 29.

The Aloha Bowl Regional Ocean Science Competition title captured Saturday is Maui High’s sixth in 11 years. The team heads to Milwaukee, Wis., for the national competition, to run from April 18 to 21. The theme of this year’s competition is “The Great Lakes: A Window into Freshwater Science.”

“I feel that by our winning we have shown what public school students are capable of doing,” Ginoza said in an email. “We try to be a model for what is possible, and we feel that we have an impact on other schools.”

He added that he was pleased to see more public schools in this year’s competition.

In Saturday’s competition, students went through round robin morning rounds and afternoon double-elimination rounds. Students used buzzers to ring in with a correct answer. There was also a written team competition.

Subject matter covered included physical oceanography, marine biology, marine policy, chemistry, physics, math, geology, geography, social science and astronomy.

Questions included having the students reproduce the reaction that occurs during photosynthesis and anaerobic respiration, and asking which state is receiving the most debris from the Japan tsunami. (The correct answer for the debris question is Oregon.)

Ginoza said that after some questions were read, a volunteer at the competition who has a master’s degree in oceanography wondered how high school students could answer some of the questions.

Ginoza added that none of the students, nor himself, ever took a course in oceanography, but they studied it.

“One of the greatest advantages of competing in the Ocean Science Bowl is that students that take it seriously learn study skills that prepare them for college. At the same time, it teaches them teamwork and gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment,” Ginoza wrote.

Camp agreed, noting that he is learning things that will help him in the future.

“Just anything we do now with science and stuff will help us later in life,” he said.

Ginoza said that since some of the students have learned so much through studying for the competitions they are considering taking an advanced-placement environmental science exam for college credit. Normally students enroll in subject-specific advanced-placement courses in high school prior to taking the advanced-placement exams in specific subject areas. The classes help students prepare for the exams.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at