Darian DeBortoli, Josh Bonivert, Caleb Santi, Chris Rees and Elias Romo are the founding members of MSHS's first ever Science Bowl team.

Instead of going home after school to stare at their phones, watch TV or play a video game, the five members of Mount Shasta High School’s Science Bowl team meet in Room 7 to discuss things like nematodes and sphingolipids.

Darian DeBortoli, Josh Bonivert, Caleb Santi, Chris Rees and Elias Romo are the founding members of MSHS’s first ever Science Bowl team. Although there’s never been one at MSHS, Science Bowl is popular in larger schools, including Lincoln High School in Los Angeles, where Barbara Paulson coached the activity for 20 years before relocating to Mount Shasta last spring.

Paulson is teaching French part time at MSHS and volunteers to coach the Bears’ Science Bowl team as a way of giving back to the community, she said. “And I enjoy hanging out with clever kids,” she added.

Every Thursday after school, the team gets together for two hours to answer practice questions, get used to the buzzer and learn contest strategies. “We concentrate on the stuff we suck at,” Paulson laughed.

The students answer questions like: “Consisting of a fatty acid chain attached through an amide linkage to sphingosine, what is the fundamental structural unit common to all sphingolipids?” (The answer, if you are curious, is ceramide.)

Each member of the team has a specialty that they focus on. Darian is especially knowledgeable about biology and earth sciences; Josh’s strengths are physics and energy; Caleb knows about energy and biology; Chris is a whiz with earth science and chemistry; and Elias is strong in physics and math.

Teams have five seconds to buzz in and answer toss up questions. If they interrupt the question, they can get extra points if their answer is correct. However, if they’re wrong, the other team automatically gets those points.

When they put their heads together to answer bonus questions (they get 20 seconds for bonuses), the team must rely on and trust each others’ knowledge, Paulson explained.

“It’s amazing the conversations they have, how they bounce back and forth and come up with the correct answer together,” said Paulson.

The Science Bowl is the nation’s largest science competition. Since its inception in 1991, nearly 200,000 students have participated. It’s a fast-paced, game show-style competition in which teams of four students (plus one alternate) face off and answer complex, college-level math, science and technology questions from a moderator.

Nationally, the contest is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The Far Nor Cal High School Regional – which the MSHS team will compete in at Simpson University on Saturday, Feb. 29 – is sponsored by the City of Redding.

The winner of the Far Nor Cal competition will receive an all-expenses paid trip to Washington D.C. to compete in the National Science Bowl in April.

As a team-building exercise, the group took a camping trip at Lassen National Park over the summer, Paulson said, where they enjoyed learning about “really cool things” in science. And while Science Bowl training is a lot of fun, Chris said he’s learned a lot from the process.

“It’s because it’s a passion, not an obligation,” he said.

“We’re here by choice ... we want to be here,” said Josh, who was the first to join the team. He enjoys learning about the different aspects of science and figured participation “would look good on a college application.”

Caleb said he enjoys Science Bowl because of his love of learning and Elias said he’s grateful for the opportunity to experience the competition.

Paulson moved to Mount Shasta after retiring from 20 years teaching biology, AP biology, astronomy, and research methods at a math and science magnet school in 2016. She always wanted to live in a mountain town, she said, and found all she dreamed of in Mount Shasta.

When she heard that MSHS didn’t participate in Science Bowl, she became determined to get one started. She secured funding from the Weingart Foundation and began searching for kids who would be interested in participation. In addition, one of her friends, a retired surgeon, held a fundraiser in LA and sent $300 to help the team purchase practice buzzers.

Because all but one of the Science Bowl participants are seniors, Paulson is already looking for younger students who will want to continue the activity next year.

To learn more about MSHS’s Science Bowl team, contact Paulson by emailing bpaulson@sisuhsd.net.