CALUMET - The Calumet Science Olympiad Middle School team getting first place is nothing new. But the margin of victory is.
This year's team scored 85 points at its recent regionals in Marquette, 50 ahead of the second-place finisher.
"It's always been 10 and under," said coach Darrell Hendrickson. "This year we just blew everybody away."
Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Washington Middle School Science Olympiad members Brooke Tienhaara and Summer Weidman work on a mousetrap car during practice at the school Saturday. The team finished in first place at regionals and will compete at state in April.
They'll head to state along with the high school team, which finished third out of 12 teams, despite only having seven members. This year's competition takes place April 26 at Michigan State University.
The middle school team has been going to state for eight years, placing a team-best 21st last year. Hendrickson thinks this team can beat that.
"This is a really good, solid team," he said. "This is the best show at state we've ever had."
Students were busy practicing at the school Saturday morning, tinkering with designs or studying materials.
Coach Eric Hermanson was working with seventh-grader Leah Riutta, eighth-grader Jenna Kivela-Heinz and ninth-grader Garrick Ensminger on Sounds of Music. They have to build two instruments and play two pieces of music; aside from strings, commercial musical materials are forbidden.
Riutta and Kivela-Heinz are both flautists, while Ensminger plays piano.
In one case, Kivela-Heinz built a flute out of PVC pipe and drilled holes in it.
"It sounds a lot like a normal flute," she said.
Out in the hallway, ninth-grader Brooke Tienhaara and seventh-grader Summer Weidman were testing their mousetrap car. A dip in the hallway slowed its momentum, but the car stayed headed in the direction of the target.
Tienhaara said she likes "being able to hang out with all the people I actually really like."
As for Weidman, she likes "that I'm kind of better than my sister in some things."
Coaches for the team include Calumet science teachers, Ph.D. fellows assisting them at the school and parents.
Nilufer Onder, a computer science associate professor at Michigan Technological University, said females are traditionally underrepresented in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields. Science Olympiad can be a great way to fix that.
"We have observed a lot of the girls going really confidently into the STEM fields," she said.
One of them is high school team member Hannah Koskiniemi, who began with Science Olympiad as a seventh-grader.
"Really just the learning, that feeling of knowing something not a lot of other people know, getting good at one specific thing," she said.
Her favorite event this year is geologic mapping, in which she took first place at regionals. It relates directly to what she'll be doing next year - majoring in geology at Michigan Tech.