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Commack Middle School bound for National Science Bowl

Students from R.C. Murphy Junior High School in

Students from R.C. Murphy Junior High School in Stony Brook confer on a question during the Middle School Regional Science Bowl at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Saturday, March 5, 2016. Credit: Newsday / David Olson

A team from Commack Middle School on Saturday navigated a thicket of questions about subatomic particles, tetrapods and volcanoes to win the right to represent Long Island at the National Science Bowl.

Commack defeated defending champion R.C. Murphy Junior High School, from Stony Brook, in the 20-team competition at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Team captain Riley Bode, 13, competed in 2015 and attributed this year’s victory to better preparation.

“It makes such a difference,” he said. “We didn’t get enough time to practice last year, to get our strategy down.”

Commack Team 1 — the school fielded a second five-member team as well — will travel to Washington, D.C., for the national competition April 28 to May 2. The team will join one from Farmingdale High School, which won the regional high school science bowl in January.

The U.S. Department of Energy, which sponsors the science bowls, pays the travel expenses to D.C. for regional winners and will award $1,000 to the science departments of the 16 top-finishing schools in the national competitions. More than 13,500 students nationwide are participating in this year’s regional bowls.

Kimberly Gromov, Commack coach and a science teacher at the school, said the excitement of the competition helped to increase participants’ desire to learn more about science.

“I think it gives them more passion for the subject,” said Gromov, who has held weekly practice sessions for her teams during the past several months.

During the tournament, students consult with each other as they quickly do math calculations and rack their brains to answer questions such as “What is the term used to describe the embryonic leaf in a seed?” The answer, which Riley got correct, cotyledon.

The teamwork means the kids are learning the importance of working together as well as about science and math, said Olga Pharr, 44, a coach for the team from Portledge School in Locust Valley.

“They really have to come together and discuss questions and make a decision together,” said Pharr, the mother of Portledge contestant Liam, 13. “They can all contribute.”

Questions come from a variety of fields, including biology, chemistry, Earth science, physics, energy and math.

Tim Petritsch, who was competing Saturday for the second-place finisher, a team from R.C. Murphy Junior High School, said the range of subjects makes the tournament especially challenging.

Tim, 14, who is considering a career researching new technologies for airplanes, said science interests him because it “is always a big part of everything else in life.”

“Technology and advances come because of science — phones and cars and stuff like that,” Tim said.

The all-day event had a round-robin, double-elimination format, and the top-finishing teams won shiny trophies, just like in sports tournaments.

Andreas Schenk Caviezel, 47, father of Portledge team member Luca Caviezel, 14, said school competition often meant sports, at which not all kids excelled.

“This,” he said, “gives the nerds an opportunity to shine.”

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