2015 Orca Bowl: The road to nationals

Any student at FHHS can volunteer to be a part of the Orca Bowl teams, but it takes a certain kind of student to excel in this competition.

On the afternoon before they head to the University of Washington to compete in the annual Orca Bowl, Friday Harbor High School’s A and B teams are confident they’ll make waves at the regional competition.

Orca BowlWith possible questions like — “what causes the vertical migration patterns of the organisms collectively known as the deep sound scattering layer?” — the overall attitude of “we got this,” is a bit peculiar, as this is not an open book test.

But, that’s what happens when you have students that strive for academic success, at a high school located on a bio-diverse island.

“We come from somewhere near the ocean, with an amazing marine biology center,” said Courtney Bell, a Friday Harbor High School senior and Orca Bowl competitor. “We want to show where we come from.”

High school students from around Washington state go head to head each year in a battle of oceanographic intelligence to see what team will advance to the national competition. This year, nationals will be held in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

Any student at FHHS can volunteer to be a part of the Orca Bowl teams, but it takes a certain kind of student to excel in this competition. One needs to be willing to put in the time to study, and have the ability to work as a part of a team.

Questions are presented in multiple-choice, short-answer and team-challenge formats that require cooperation among teammates and personal problem-solving skills. All questions are ocean-related in some way and include physics, chemistry, biology, and technology.Orca Bowl

“We were a little rough to start off with,” said senior Max Haenel. “But we’ve smoothed all the bumps. It took a little time to settle down as a group.”

Each year graduate students from the U of W Friday Harbor Labs help coach and train the Orca Bowl competitors. Graduate student Derek Smith has been an Orca Bowl coach for the past four years.

“This is a first look into academia on the college level,” Smith said. “I wish I had this in high school.”

Winners of the Orca Bowl are offered scholarships to study oceanography at U of W. The scholarship pays for 25 percent of tuition if students chose to pursue marine science as a major.

In the final practice rounds, the Friday Harbor A team has scored 58 points in six minutes.

“We’re feeling really good going into it,” Haenel said.

Confident in themselves and in each other, the teams are ready for the quasi-jeopardy competition where the better they do the longer they stay in the game, until the final round of double-elimination between the top four teams.

Orca BowlAs of 2013, the FHHS team had made it to the Orca Bowl nationals for four consecutive years, but fell short last spring. This year, the teams hope to regain their place at the national competition.

“This is a really dedicated group,” said FHHS science teacher and Orca Bowl coach Jesse Visciglia. “Friday Harbor is the team to beat.”


Update: The FHHS A team finished in first place at the regional Orca Bowl competition, Feb. 27, at U of W in Seattle. They are headed to the national championship in Mississippi in April.