WATERVILLE — Early in the afternoon on Wednesday, the halls of Waterville Senior High School were empty as students and faculty enjoyed a week-long April recess. But tucked into a classroom down a long hallway and across from the gymnasium, a small group of students hovered over their computer screens at a cluttered work table. They spoke quietly to each other and ate their lunches, but kept their eyes focused on their work.

The students, members of the Waterville Science Olympiad team, said being at school during vacation is the kind of dedication and commitment to the team that it takes to become state champions — which they became last month.

The team placed first out of 14 Maine teams at the state championship, its 17th win at that event in the last 21 years. With the win, the first state win for any of the present teammates, the team advances to compete against 60 high school teams from around the country at the Science Olympiad National Tournament May 18 through May 20 at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, Wisconsin.

“On Science Olympiads, everyone has to do the same amount of work and you are all held responsible,” said Sophie Boardman, a senior on the team. “So I feel like it’s more hard work, but fulfilling in the end when you know that you’ve medaled and you’ve done all this work for it. We definitely wouldn’t be here (during spring break) if we weren’t going to nationals.”

On Wednesday, Boardman was joined by teammates Maxwell Burger-Roy, a senior, and Machaela Laramee, also a senior, for a practice in advance of their trip next month.

The trio had been at practice since about 9:30 that morning and stayed until just before 2 p.m. With other teammates away on vacation, the members at the practice were few, but those who had time in between sports practices also stopped by when they could.

Jon Ramgren, the team’s coach and a science teacher at Waterville High School, also attended to oversee and help with practice. The last time his team made it to nationals was in 2012.

“They’ve done really well,” Ramgren said. “It was just a matter of time before they broke through (to nationals) again. It’s been important to the kids, and they’ve made it a priority and worked hard at it.”

The Science Olympiad tournament comprises 23 competition events covering all areas of the sciences including physics, engineering, environmental science, chemistry, biology and others.

Boardman, who transferred from Messalonskee High School her sophomore year and was on the robotics team at the Oakland school, said she was drawn to the Science Olympiad team because Waterville doesn’t have robotics. While she could have joined the robotics team at the Mid-Maine Technical Center, she joined the Science Olympiad team instead because she felt it offered an opportunity to learn about a wider range of science.

“There’s a lot of events spread out into all the sciences. Until sophomore year I had no experience in environmental science,” she said.

The team breaks down into groups of two or three for each event, which they select in the fall. Some of the events are tests, which students on the team spend all year practicing and studying for. Some of the events also require building gadgets and mechanisms in advance of tournaments, such as the clock Burger-Roy made, which will be put to the test in the It’s About Time event.

Wednesday’s practice was bittersweet for Burger-Roy because he has a commitment that will prevent him from going to nationals. Other teammates will take his place in the events he was scheduled to compete in, which were cell biology, protein modeling, It’s About Time and astronomy. At practice he was working on compiling notes for his replacements to work from.

“Those four events are in the area of science that I specialize in, and I feel that if I can get as much of what is going on in my head out on paper, then it will be just like I’m there,” Burger-Roy said.

Burger-Roy will attend Northeastern University in Boston this fall, where he plans to study chemical engineering. He said that he has enjoyed his two years on the Science Olympiad team because it allows him to be competitive in a subject he loves.

“I like that it’s a place where I can embrace my love for science and my talents. And that I can do it in a competitive fashion. I am a very competitive person,” Burger-Roy said.

While Science Olympiad sits well with Burger-Roy’s competitive streak, he and his fellow teammates say they are always there to help and to encourage each other to excel.

Nora Greene, a sophomore on the team who stopped by to practice on Wednesday, said that science isn’t even her favorite school subject, but she enjoys being a part of a team and working towards a common goal.

“Although we do study and build projects, it’s also a huge part of feeling like a community. Science Olympiads is more than just science; it’s being able to work together,” Greene said.

The team meets weekly for practices during the school year beginning in September. Ramgren said that aside from working on Science Olympiad preparation, teammates also help each other with homework.

Rosemarie Smith, a longtime coach and science teacher at Waterville High, said that it’s inevitable for the team to grow very close to one another after the amount of time and work they put into their collective success.

“It’s almost a family atmosphere,” Smith said. “We just were really very close. None of us wanted to lose for each other.”

The team is working to raise $13,000 to cover the expenses of traveling to the national competition. Ramgren said the team has held bake sales after school and may hold car washes if necessary, but donations sent to Waterville High School will be accepted.

Other team members include seniors Katie Bernier, Justin Kornsey and Cody Veilleux; juniors Bridger Holly, Katie Lopes, Cecilia Morin, Anthony Pinnette, Nathan Pinnette and John Violette; and sophomores Cleo Bazakas and Natalia Fuentes.

Regardless of whether the team wins at nationals, Boardman said that Science Olympiads has instilled in her the importance of self-fulfillment, a quality she will take with her when she begins her freshman year studying chemistry at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“I like the aspect of self-fulfillment,” Boardman said. “I have always found it fulfilling to learn things, and being on this team has just opened up all the opportunities in science.”

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

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