The Manhattan High Science Olympiad team placed third overall in the large school section of the Kansas Science Olympiad state tournament and placed in six individual events across seven contestants.
“By the time it’s all said and done this team actually came through really well,” head coach Craig Ackerman said. “I felt like third was really pretty good. We got a couple of schools out of Kansas City that are pretty tough to beat, and it would take a lot from our team to beat them, which I hope to do of course someday, but we’ll definitely take third this year. I was pretty happy with that.”
Sophomore Vinny Sun, sophomore Julius Neumann and junior Eszter Chikan placed first in Protein Modeling; sophomore Ameerah Alfailakawi and Neumann placed second in Designer Genes; senior Kayla Lei and junior Anna Culbertson placed second in Forensics; Lei and Sun took third in Chemistry; junior Annissa Dougherty and Neumann placed third in Machines and Sun took third in Detector Building.
“I’m very pleasantly surprised [with my results],” Lei said. “I know Manhattan High [has] a really good reputation with Science Olympiad, and coming in as a senior who’s also in their first year I felt like I need to continue this and be the one that pushes it along. So I’m glad that it turned out well.”
The students worked on their projects starting in the second quarter and submitted those same projects to the regional competition — which the team as a whole won — before spring break.
Through hybrid in the fall, the students had less time together to prepare and form a team. Many of the students are remote, so practices and class time did not include the full group.
“With COVID, it was like everything wasn’t really in person and we didn’t have many team practices,” Lei said. “So it was difficult to really get in the rhythm and work together on it. So… it was really lax this year.”
The tournament was held remotely this year, rather than on a college campus. Competitors instead took their tests remotely under the supervision of their coach and videoed their hands-on projects. Many of the students were disappointed in this, even if it was expected.
“I think traveling is always the most fun part,” Sun said. “Going to the national college campuses, especially for the labs. It’s really nice to go to an actual chemistry classroom and do the labs or the physics room to do their labs, but we have to make do with what we have this year.”
After a chaotic year, Science Olympiad is only graduating one senior — Lei. With the next school year ahead, they hope to have a better time when academics are presumably closer to normal.
“The most promising thing about the team was they did this well enough that we won regionals, and we got third at state in this large school division, and I’m hoping… we’ll get a vast majority of our team back and,” Ackerman said. “It’ll be tough to replace Kayla, of course, but the fact that we’ll have a solid group of returners who know what Science Olympiad is about, how you’re going to go about preparing to do so well, that should be a really nice advantage for us next year.”