For the second time in a row, and the sixth time in the history of the competition, the Poplarville High School National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB) team, the Fish Fighters, won the Hurricane Bowl. Poplarville won both divisions in the competition, held Friday and Saturday, March 7 and 8 at USM’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) in Ocean Springs. Teams from Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, and Mississippi participated in this preliminary for the national competition to be held in Seattle, Washington this May.
As the winner of the Hurricane Bowl, the Poplarville A-team, along with second place Ocean Springs High School, will accompany scientists from the GCRL to survey the population of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, the A-team will be flown to Seattle to represent the Hurricane Bowl in the annual national competition. The PHS B-team’s prize is a trip to Alabama for a paleontological dig to explore and discover fossils of ancient organisms. The paleontology trip is being hosted by a fellow Ocean Bowl coach, Ashley Allen of Oneonta, AL, who is also president of the Alabama Paleontological Society.
The NOSB is one of the most prestigious academic competitions in the United States. Teams of students throughout the country compete in regional events to determine which teams will compete for national honors. The Poplarville team has been competing for over a decade and has won the Hurricane Bowl six times, representing the region in Charleston, SC; Stony Brooke, NY; St. Petersburg, FL; Galveston, TX; Milwaukee, WI; and soon in Seattle, WA.
Members of the winning team traveling to Seattle to represent the region are Captain Stephen Mitchell, Kaitlyn Barber, Ben Jones, Rob Merrell, and Austin Stampley. Team B is comprised of Captain Matthew Merrell, Andrew Howard, Daniel Knoll, Cheyenne Spear, and Logan Stines. The Fish Fighters also include five members who competed in the National Science Bowl earlier in the year. Those Fish Fighters are Captain Devynn Hart, Andrew Hodge, Clay Martin, Samantha Recatto, and Kaitlyn Stampley. 2014 marked the first time the Fish Fighters competed in the National Science Bowl, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and held at the University of New Orleans.
After twelve years of competing in academic quiz bowls, the close-knit PHS team has developed several traditions. One tradition, in particular, is highly anticipated by fellow competitors and competition officials alike. Even teams from throughout America look forward to seeing “what the Fish Fighters are this year”. Last year, the Fish Fighters appeared dressed as characters from Star Wars. In years past, they have come as Disney characters, rock stars, ninjas, the Village People, and many others. This year, the question was answered when in marched Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Toad, Donkey Kong, Princess Daisy, and the rest of the gang from the Mario Brothers video game.
The NOSB competition is a grueling day-long event comprised of ten matches, each lasting about 45 minutes. Our regional Hurricane Bowl begins its events on Friday with a guest lecturer. This year, Dr. Andrew Evans spoke to the students about Elasmobranchii, or sharks and rays. After the lecture, students settle into dorms until the next morning‘s first meeting, the “all-hands-on-deck” meeting. Perennial powerhouses Bay High, Long Beach, Pearl River Central, Oneonta, and Ocean Springs, and many others, including several newcomers, battle it out in a succession of matches culminating with the final match held in the auditorium of the laboratory to a packed house of spectators.
Each year, the Hurricane Bowl and 24 other regional competitions are held across America from Alaska and Hawaii to Boston and Miami; even Denver, Colorado has a NOSB team. The winning team from each of the 25 regional competitions advances to the NOSB Finals Competition held in a different location each year.
The PHS team is no stranger to the NOSB Finals Competition, two members of this team alone has attended two previous national competitions, in Galveston and Milwaukee. In the past, the PHS team has been honored twice at nationals with the Admiral James D. Watkins Sportsmanship Award in Charleston and Stony Brooke. It wasn’t until last year, however, that the team earned a first for the Hurricane Bowl when they moved into the double elimination portion of the competition. Ultimately, the Fish Fighters were ousted by a team that went on to place in the contest. In a separate, but mandatory, portion of the competition, the Science Expert Briefing (SEB), the PHS team placed 14 out of the 25 teams competing in the Milwaukee competition.
This year’s veteran PHS team is composed of three seniors, a sophomore and a freshman, and each feel that they are up to the task in Seattle. The team’s goal for this year’s finals is to bring home a trophy. Former members of the team are asked to return each year and serve as assistant coach for the competition. Landon Tynes, member of the winning team that went to St. Petersburg, served as coach for the team this year.
The head coach for the Fish Fighters is PHS teacher Mel Hall, a thirteen-year member of the staff at PHS. Hall teaches the Oceanography class as well as Geology, Advanced Biology and Advanced Placement Biology. Serving as assistant coach was PHS Biology teacher Kim Jackson. Practice for the Fish Fighters is year-long, with up to three, two-hour practices each week increasing as the February to May competition dates approach. During the summer the group has explored the Gulf and assisted in scientific research at the GCRL, in addition to assignments to be completed before school begins in August. The students who will compete are selected in October, but any PHS student interested in oceanography and the related sciences are welcome to join and participate.