With veteran crew on hand, Cranston East heads back to Quahog Bowl

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Perhaps being from the Ocean State can give Cranston High School East a leg up.

East is one of two high schools in Rhode Island, along with Narragansett, that will head to the regional of the National Ocean Sciences Bowl. The Quahog Bowl, which is in its 16th year, is an annual marine and ocean science knowledge-based competition during which 16 teams from across Rhode Island and Connecticut are pitted against one another.

“The bottom line is to create future leadership for ocean and science technologies,” Margaret van Patten, communications director of the University of Connecticut Sea Grant, said. “One [reason] is to expose the very bright high school students to ocean sciences, because for many of them it may be the only exposure they get. It helps them understand what the ocean issues are, and the new technologies that are emerging and the issues and environmental challenges.”

East’s team consists of junior Leah Struminsky and seniors Sean Su, Noah Gibb, Eli Hill and Ashley Paquin. The task has gotten more difficult for Rhode Island teams to prevail since it moved from the University of Rhode Island to the University of Connecticut-Avery Point several years ago, but East has been there before.

This will be its 13th time, to be exact.

The national qualifier is an all-day event in Groton from 7:50 a.m. to approximately 4 p.m. The rigorous questioning will whittle the field down to two teams by day’s end. East has only ever finished as high as second place, falling to West both times, but this time around East enlists a veteran roster that believes it could surprise its opponents.

“We have fun, too,” third-year competitor Su said. “We scare them sometimes.”

This year’s theme is “Blue Energy: Powering the Planet with Our Oceans,” which will shoot off into questions of varying difficulty and intensity. Along with the quiz-style format that requires schools to ring in with a buzzer, a-la Jeopardy!, the teams will be challenged to answer long-form, critical-thinking questions as well which require deeper probing.

According to the event’s press release, some of the subtopics will include “technologies used to harness energy from waves, tides, currents, wind and thermal gradients” and “challenges in implementing marine renewable energy projects,” among several others.

“It’s a very timely topic because the oceans are moving all the time between the wind, the tides, the waves,” Van Patten said. “For example, in Rhode Island you have the wind farm there [off Block Island]. The same kind of technologies are being used on the west coast and I think these technologies are going to grow.”

Readying the troops for such a taxing event is familiar territory for Howard Chun, the East science teacher who has led the team since its genesis. East has participated in the Quahog Bowl in all but three years since its foundation.

“Preparation depends on the level of how the kids want to get involved,” Chun said. “It’s all about oceans, it’s different. Physics, chemistry, biology, oceanography, all the animals, creatures that live there. We can assign them little areas where they know this, you know that. We do videos, books, practice buzzing.”

East started with 10 interested participants before the current group emerged. Chun said about three to four months of preparation is poured into working towards the team’s ultimate goal.

Chun said there is also a pride factor in being the sole Cranston institution to travel to Groton for the festivities.

“There’s some pride there,” Chun, who runs the team with fellow science teacher Glen Modica, said. “The kids are excited to represent Rhode Island.”

Van Patten stressed the importance of an event like the Quahog Bowl, offering a reminder that the survival of the ocean is key to the existence of human life.

“It’s critical to the survival of life on the planet, not just future energy sources,” Van Patten said. “The ocean supports all life on earth. The other critical topics are climate, [and] the ocean regulates our planet’s climate. We need to know a lot to conduct maritime commerce. People say we’ve explored space to a much greater extent than we’ve explored the ocean.”

The winner of the Quahog Bowl will have travel to the NOSB championship in Corvallis, Oregon, from April 20-23. No matter the outcome Saturday, East knows it won’t have West blocking the way if it does make a run for the top spot.

“We feel way better about ourselves already,” Su said, with a laugh. “We’re the best Cranston team.”

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