By Chidi PR Chidambaram
Carmel Valley Middle School won first place at the annual middle school Science Olympiad — again!
The Science Olympiad competition was held in Rancho Bernardo High School on Feb. 4 where 1,350 students from 28 different schools competed in 23 different events by organizing the children into 90 different teams.
“This is the largest middle school event in the country,” said Liz Jablecki, the San Diego regional director of the event.
The Science Olympiad organization has been very successful in generating sports like cheers-and-tears excitement during this annual event.
Science Olympians do not have to spot their teammate by the uniform in the lab to pass the test tube, but they all voluntarily wear the same uniform. Unlike sports events, the coaches and coordinators also wear the team uniform.
You do not expect the Science Olympians to run around the ceremony auditorium displaying their team banner or stomp the wooden gallows to “we will, we will rock you” to cheer the crowd, but they do.
Any school can field up to six teams of 15 children in each team. Carmel Valley had a full strength of 90 students prepared for the competition. The competition includes 23 events that are more or less evenly split between test taking, building, and lab work.
Liz Jablecki handed out medals to the top 10 finishers in every event and ribbon recognition to the next 10 finishers. Finally, the top 10 schools were recognized. Carmel Valley Middle School was the 800-pound gorilla in the event.
Apart from winning the competition as a school, they dominated the day by placing often in the top 20. Although 28 schools participated, Carmel Valley won 94 of the 460 medals and ribbons awarded. Of events coached by LiYing Jiang (Forestry) Anjali Madhekar (Meteorology), Charles Shim (Water quality), and Monalisa Chakraborty (Rocks/Minerals), everyone who participated from CVMS were recognized with a medal or a ribbon — a top 25 percent performer.
The head coaches for this year’s team were Cindy Morrin and Erika Pollner. The last time Carmel Valley won this competition was in 2007, which was also the last time Cindy Morrin coordinated the event. Cindy and David Morrin, a mother- father are a coordinator- coach tag team then and now. Their elder son, Chase, then a Bobcat who won the Glider and Trebuchet event in Science Olympiad 2007, is now a Crimson at Harvard University.
Pollner, the co-coordinator of the event has been plotting to win this event for more than a year. “This year, we used a new strategy that had two benefits: we had more Science Olympiad participants than ever before, and we were able to put together a winning team,” Pollner said. Their strategy started with making every student earn a spot on the team. There were over 135 students who wanted to represent Carmel Valley, and coaches held tests to determine the children who showed the most aptitude and enthusiasm. Tristan Pollner, who helped his mom coordinate the event, also won first place in Road Scholar and said, “The best part of Science Olympiad was preparing for the event as a team – also, I enjoyed winning, of course.”
Behind the Bobcats masquerading as six different species of penguins was an international army coaches,  volunteers and their sorry spouses who had to pick up on the chores the coaches left behind.
Carlos Coimbra, a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSD, coached these Penguins to build impossible machines for mission possible and Ph.D chemists and biologists, such as Ramana Doppalapudi and LiYing Jiang, coached Microbe Mission and Forestry. LiYing said she motivated her teams by taking them on a field trip with high school competitors to real forests and working well with them. Her teams placed first, fourth, seventh, 11th twice, and 14th. Her son, Jason, apart from winning the Forestry event, placed second in Disease Detectives. Jason Ke’s key to winning tip: “Preparing every week and not procrastinating to the last day.”
“Frustrated with not having the garage for six months, and by the junk left behind by children, on the final day before the event, you tell yourself you are never going to coach again, but in three months you are back at planning the event for next year,” said Ed Schweiger, who coached the Food Science team that took first, third and fourth place. He and his wife Shierly Wang also hosted multiple Mission Possible practices in their garage. Their daughter, Alice, the only child to win two first place medals this year and a first place in state competition last year said, ”The key was not to panic on event day and to do your best.”
February was a nice and typical San Diego day; Ranch Bernardo High school was teeming with tweens. Their grins were so big you could see their white teeth beneath their braces.
Monalisa Chakraborty, coach of Rocks and Minerals said, “You will fail in this event if you attempt to memorize; instead, I helped the children understand the classification and access the information rapidly.” As a result, she had four top 10 finishers. 
Xinia Nilipour honed her skills to coach Dynamic planet at Torrey Hills last year and said, “Setting up many tests during the course of preparation is the key to winning.” The team of her daughter, Lily, and Bhairav Chidambaram won the event. Bhairav, who also won two other top five medals said, “The key is to spend your time and effort wisely.”
The Mission Possible machines that executed 11 tasks each of which are triggered by the end of the previous these kids built would make McCauley Culkin of the Home Alone series prouder than Tom Cruise who typically tackles impossible missions.
Kelly Hughes, the volunteer coordinator, organized a truly enjoyable event day experience for the CVMS team. She and her team planned the Who-What-When details of all activities that kept the both the children fed and the coaches agile and caffeinated all day with Starbucks. Her son, Geraint, who also had three top five medals said, “The secret to test events is to prepare the cheat sheet — You look at what most miss on the test and put them on the cheat sheet.” Charles Shim, who coached his students to win four top 10 finishes in Water Quality, was very proud of the way his teams prepared. They built and learned to use the salinometer to test the salt and ion content of water.
When Mesa Verde was announced to win second place the entire Carmel Valley team erupted from their chairs as they knew they won competition. Rest of the night, these bobcats were dancing to a different tune – their temporary Penguin song but on their own “happy feet.” Torrey Hills, an elementary school where only the sixth graders could compete, fielded only few students; but, they soared like a “hawk” and remarkably won 8th place among the 28 teams that competed.
The Black Mountain that looked tall and daunting on the way into Rancho Bernado High School now seemed supple and conquered against the orange glow of the setting sun as the victorious Bobcats rode home on the Carmel Valley road.
The team is now preparing to compete in the state tournament.