Going for (Science) Olympic Gold: SciOly Team Crushes Competition in Regionals


Richard Zhuang

The sounds of pencil scribbles, noisy page flips, and excited chatter fill the room. Forty kids are scrambling to finish a written test, murmuring to their partners and leafing through their note sheets. For 50 minutes, they compete intensively with several other high schools in a cutthroat, high stakes battle, fighting to see who will achieve the highest score on the test and claim the first place prize in the event. No, this isn’t your typical exam: it’s a Science Olympiad competition.

Science Olympiad, also referred to as SciOly, is an annual national competition that our school participates in. South High has one of the best SciOly teams in New York, usually finishing third or fourth at the state competition. Last year, the team finished first in the state and qualified for the national competition, finishing in 19th place among 60 of the best high schools in the country. 

The competition itself is simple: there are 20-25 study or building “events” and students are assigned 3-4 events with one or two partners. Each study event tests a specific topic, such as Cell Biology, Chemistry Lab, or Astronomy. Students must take a written test and sometimes perform a hands-on portion. In the building events, competitors must create various machines and devices. While some events are relatively simple—such as the “Bridges” event, where competitors must engineer an efficient wooden bridge that can withstand the most weight while also being as light as possible—some building events are very unique, such as the “WiFi Lab” event, where students must use the principles of electromagnetic waves to construct a device that can transmit WiFi signals. 

Unfortunately, SciOly competitions were negatively impacted by the pandemic. Ever since February of 2020, all of the SciOly competitions were canceled with only virtual competitions returning during the 2020-2021 school year. The competitions were conducted through an online platform called Scilympiad, where students took an online test and communicated with each other using Discord or Zoom. 

However, the experience was far from normal. Matthew Tsui, president of the SciOly club, notes how virtual practice last year was completely different. “There really wasn’t that much communication or a team aspect. In-person, we usually just practice in [Room 507] together, and it’s much more lively and more fun.” Additionally, the preparation for SciOly this year has been completely different from last year. “The main difference is building, because last year all of the building events were canceled. Besides that, much of the studying is the same, just instead of studying alone at home, you are doing it with your partners.” 

Ms. Spinelli, co-advisor of SciOly, also says that even though they have been able to prepare in-person, it is still different from the past. “On one hand, it feels different from previous in-person experiences because I think people aren’t yet fully in the habit of coming to practice, but on the other hand, it’s really great because we’re back to having building events, so people who joined the SciOly team as builders specifically are able to do the events that they always intended on doing.”    

Ms. Spinelli also missed many of the in-person aspects of the SciOly experience last year. “I really missed our team dinners and bonding […]. But, you know, we’re kinda back to some of that this year, [like] when Jansen put on the board—he drew a QR code, manually, on the board, and we all tested it, knowing it wasn’t going to work. I miss just the bonding aspect of [SciOly].” 

This year, SciOly competitors have once again begun practicing every day to prepare for their events. One of the most important parts that was missing last year was the team bonding and camaraderie. This year, students can finally have fun together as they prepare for their events. 

The SciOly team competed at the regional competition on February 5, 2022,their first in-person competition in two years. On February 8, the team gathered in the chorus room to watch the final results come in. As the tense atmosphere in the room climbed to a peak, it was announced that Great Neck South had won the event and would be advancing onto the state competition. Each of South High’s teams (A, B, and C) took home an impressive first, fourth, and third place, respectively.