A team of 15 junior high school science enthusiasts is honing its skills in preparation for the New York State Science Olympiad this weekend.
The Roxbury Rockets B team qualified by placing second overall at the Capital Area Regional Tournament in March. The tournament will be Friday and Saturday at Syracuse University. This year the finals will be May 17 and 18 in Dayton, Ohio.
Roxbury science teacher Fred Zimmerman has been fielding a Science Olympiad team since 1991. He has taught at the school for more than 30 years, and said the science competition has helped his students in many ways.
“It has opened their eyes up to the world of science and taught them how to think about things in a different way,” he said.
While winning is “nice,” all he wants is for the students to do their best, he said, adding that working with their peers from other schools around the state is an important experience for the students.
The team is composed of 15 members from the 21-person junior high school program. There are 15 in the Class C high school division. Participation in the program in Roxbury is open to students in grades 7-12.
Zimmerman said team members must be able to succeed in multiple events to be able to stack up against the competition. Roxbury’s track record in that regard is strong. The class B team won the state championship in 1995 and represented the state in the national finals held in Indiana. The team has gone to the state tournament for more than 20 years, only missing one year, he said.
Hartwick Professor of Geology Robert Titus has been a volunteer assistant coach since 1995. He is one of a team of people who help students with their categories that include earth science, physical science, technology and biology.
Titus said he was recruited by Zimmerman, and that coaching fits his philosophy well.
“I feel science should be integrated into the general public,” Titus explained. “What better way to do that then as a coach?”
Junior Joseph McAfee has been a team member for five years and is working with the junior high students as they prepare for the upcoming event. McAfee said he enjoys being involved with the extracurricular program. Not only does he like the people he works with, but “it’s fun to learn. It goes beyond what you can learn in school and you can apply it to real life.”
Roxbury Board of Education President Ed Fersch said the afterschool program and competitions are “a wonderful addition to the school program.” His daughter, Alisa, participated in it when she attended Roxbury. While it is nice to be successful, the primary value is as an outlet for the “scientific curiosity” of the program members, he said.