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Sheepshead Bay Science Team Heads to Olympiad Nationals This Weekend

I.S. 98 is the first New York City public school to qualify for the National Science Olympiad Tournament.

I.S. 98 The Bay Academy's Science Olympiad Team got a big send-off Thursday before they head to compete in this weekend's National Science Olympiad Tournament. This is the first time a team from a New York City public school is going to the event. 

The 15-member team and their five science teachers, also known as coaches, learned they qualified in April after winning the state tournament. For the team, which consists mostly of eighth-graders, advancing to the tournament has been a big relief. 

"It's a big accomplishment getting there," said Nithila Jerin, the team captain. "This team has been around for about 10 years and we got it. It's a big payoff for us."

At the same time, the team members are seeing this as a redemption from last year.

"Last year, we were close to making it," said team member Daniel Agrachev. "I feel the team in general has gotten better. The motivation is better."

Formed in 2015, the team has tryouts for all grades at the beginning of each school year. A trial exam is given, along with independent work. The amount of effort from the student can also be added to the final score. About 80 to 100 students try out, but only 10 to 15 make the team. 

According to Head Coach Chris Caputo, who teaches eighth-grade science, the team is dedicated to their work and are close friends. He also said their interest in science is only beginning.

Taking place in Lansing, Michigan, the national tournament will have 23 events and the students will compete in pairs to do three events against other schools from around the country. All events touch on various aspects of science, including biology, chemistry and engineering. 

The tournament has two sections. One is a 50-minute written exam the pairs take together, while the other are "build" events where the students construct a scientific device. Among the devices I.S. 98's team built was a tower that holds 15,000 grams of sand without breaking. Another needs to shoot a ping pong ball into a certain distance into a specific target.

While the team is excited and focused, they are also grateful to their coaches for helping them get to this point.

"Our coaches have been a huge motivation for us,"' said Agrachev. "They listen to us well and they taught us how to be more efficient under stress."

One of their coaches, Dr. Yeves-Moliere Jean-Louis, also known as Dr. J, is proud the team remained resilient after prior disappointment. 

"Almost making it and then accomplishing this feat, it's great to be a part of that," he said.

Tracy Caldron, the assistant commissioner of the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), which funded the team as an afterschool program, was thrilled with the team's accomplishments. 

"This is where it all starts," said Caldron. "This is the beauty of afterschool programs. They get to take it all in and they'll make good choices in college and careers."

During a brunch, the students were congratulated by their principal, Maria Timo, who told them they were on their way to make the world a better place. Deputy Mayor Ana Almanzar, City Councilmember Inna Vernikov and Keith Howard, the Commissioner of the DYCD, the NIA Community Services Network, which also funds the team's afterschool program, were in attendance.

But the big congratulations came when the team and their coaches walked through the halls of the Sheepshead Bay middle school, where their classmates cheered as the song "Unstoppable" by Sia played in the background.

As thrilling as it is for the students to go to the tournament, it is a bittersweet moment as many students will leave for high school in the fall.

"This is the last we'll do this together," Jerin said. "But if we win, we'll have fun during the last month."

And if the team wins?

"We're going to eat a lot of snacks," said team member Andy Mo. "It will be a very exciting and very great way to end off the year."