National Science Bowl (updated!)

**Addendum** This entry has been expanded twice since its original writing–now it is 3,200 words in length.**


(ok wow, this is the longest Xanga entry I’ve ever made… over 2,400 words…yikes!)


Hope for the best… expect the worst. If I’ve been living by that axiom, then this is perhaps, by far, the most unexpected, awesomest turn of events EVER… all I was hoping for. What is this ? This is about National Science Bowl Regional/State Tournament—if you don’t know what it is, you will soon—


Anyway, all the work, all the practices over the summer and throughout the year, all the effort put into improving some imaginary performance meter—it all paid off today, this morning, February 14 th , 2004.

[top row] David Yang, Keven Farrell, Matt Urda, [bottom row] Me!, Irena Wang, James Albrect


I fell asleep soon after a prayer of hope and I woke up that morning at 4:30 when Tiff called (we had agreed that the first person up would wake the other—obviously I can’t wake up on my own.). At 6:15, I was out. First stop, Starbucks—and my new favorite drink is their White Chocolate Mocha Vente. A huge 20 oz cup of pure sweet pleasure—and caffeine. I was the first at school, and right away started going over my Magic Notes (these notes shall now be framed forever!). Others started arriving one at a time, and then we waited for Farrell in front of the Husky Bus. And we waited. We were supposed to leave at 7 o’clock—by 7:10 we were still waiting. Farrell arrived at 7:15 and we boarded bus (but not before I had to show him how to open the side door… I had the condescending “omg, you’re so stupid” thought in my head, but whatever—I had studying to do). My criticisms of Farrell extended beyond the tardiness and bus door issues; even though he is a nice coach, providing us with pizza at times, imho, he really isn’t up to the responsibility of being a coach.


I heard from David after the tournament that after our final practice, he remarked, “well, we tried hard this year, maybe next year we’ll have a shot.” In spite of our retarded coach’s doubts, David tried to clarify that we had a good chance. According to Dave, our team was stronger, and better balanced than last year (NNHS placed 5 th last year). I didn’t know what to believe, but I trusted David’s pragmatism. Hope was predominant in my mind, and as I do with everything else (perhaps naively), I believed that nothing was stopping us except our own efforts. Victory was out there—a regional championship title, a trip to Washington D.C., pride and joy—it was all floating up there just above our heads. It seemed so close that I was in danger of losing myself in the thought. But I knew that everything was yet-to-be determined…


The tournament reflected of corporate sponsorship everywhere—we were given Motorola shirts, Motorola light-up key chains, Motorola ID cards… not that I was complaining. Being sponsored was cool—felt special. Besides, free stuff is nice. The novelty wore off quickly though; we collectively freaked out when we found out we were playing New Trier first; they were state champions last year, and we had lost to them in Scholastic Bowl. I tried to put a positive spin on the fact—‘if we’re going to DC, we’ll have to beat them sometime—let’s get through them early on.’ But I wasn’t too enthusiastic. We were even trying to guess who we’d have to face if we lost (it was Stevensen… another groan…). And then it was the first round.

New Trier looked poised—the coach and their players were all in smiles; they were clearly confident in their abilities. We decided that Urda would sit out the first round (only 4 players can play at one time, and Farrell didn’t know what to do), so I took my seat, B3. My first pen promptly failed to write—which I took as a bad omen, and started getting truly worried. I kept getting annoyed at Irena for repeatedly telling me “shh!” until I realized that I was jittering. ‘Chill’ I thought to myself…and proceeded to do so… Even as I was hoping for the best, I was expecting the worst, the worst being that all our practices and preparation would have been wasted when we got eliminated in our first two games. The game began…


“Toss up…chemistry… blah blah…”


Just as I was reading into the question, I heard a finger buzz in from the left. David got the first question, and the bonus—so we were up 14.


“Toss up… mathematics… blah blah…”


Then Irena got the second…


“Toss up… earth science –multiple choice.”  My ears perked up immediately. “What is the most abundant group of minerals present in the Earth’s crust? W, so–” Almost reflexively, I buzzed in. But I wasn’t trying to. Not anymore anyway… “Interruption–team B. Player B3.” The moderator had a look of surprise that was rivaled perhaps only by mine. I had forgotten it was multiple choice (in science bowl, multiple choice answers must be exact to the letter–i.e. “insect” may be wrong when “insects” is right). I was hoping somehow that I had imagined it, but the flashing green light in front of me didn’t lie. I had taken perhaps the biggest gamble of the round. Not only was I not completly sure of the answer (I had an answer)… I wasn’t sure how to phrase it either. I had five seconds. My mind suddenly blanked out. Did he say minerals? Or did he want an element? Eyes were watching. I felt David let out a silent groan… two seconds left. Should I guess a letter? Or go with my best verbal guess? Time was almost up–I had to answer.

“Silicates” I responded–hoping to God that it was at least the right answer, if not in the right form. The moderator, blinked and looked back town at his stack of questions. He looked back up at me again, and blinked a few more times. “Correct” he said, still looking at me. I realized then that I had stopped breathing. I looked at Irena–she gave me a look of astonishment. I gave one back to her. “Bonus… earth science multiple choice…” he went on. I quickly got over my shock and ensuing elation, and re-focused… and the game went on…


We were up 40 some to zero before New Trier got their first point. The game went on and ended 150 to 32-ish. It didn’t sink in for a while… these guys were the supposed champions? As we shook hands and left victoriously, for the first time, I truly truly began to believe (not just hope) that we had a chance. David Yang was telling us to just stay calm and focused—comical. He was the hyper one. I was just… “oh cool,” staying boringly calm. The next game was good as well. William Fremd (hey Laura!) also got similarly killed, and like before, David hyperactively tried to calm us down.


The next round against Lockport was interesting. We dominated the first half—a complete shut out, as we buzzed faster each time and got them all right. Then the second half… we faltered. What had been 110-0 became 114-68 by the end. Scary. But still, we won. Then came… Rockford-Auburn… these guys were… amazingly fast—incredibly close game—we won by stalling the last couple minutes, cheap maybe, but when the game is THAT close… every tactic counts (especially since they would have done the same). Somehow, we made it into the finals without a single loss. We were all happy obviously, and glad to have the lunch break—(so far we were the only team without a loss, so we could have an extra half hour of break while the other teams fought for a chance to face us again). Urda and James whipped out their poker set, while Irena and I kept practicing. We were already guaranteed at least second place—that alone was far better than what I had been expecting, but we were so close to first… Annoyingly, Mr. Farrell was the one most excited… he was way over his head—and kept talking about how unbelievable we were, and how amazing it would be to meet the president in DC… he pretty much thought we had already won it… confidence is good, but as a coach, that’s not what you want to do when you’re that close to total victory. We needed to focus everything we had. And at that moment, my caffeine high promptly died. As David will attest, I was dead after my second slice of pizza. Less than four hours of sleep and a running caffeine high for three hours does such things…


The final games were held in the big chamber—(really cool looking, reminded me of the Senate chamber)—I had another cup of coffee before the game to wake me up one last time. We were watching Rockford-Auburn and Wheaton North square off (we’d be playing the winner)… and were freaked out. RA was dominating WN. We scrambled to answer the questions while we watched. Then it was our turn on the floor. I took comfort knowing that they would have to beat us twice, as we were yet undefeated… and here came the closest game of all time. Interesting how twenty minutes can seem so long yet so short at the same time… and those definitive twenty minutes were indeed the most suspense filled twenty minutes since Scho-bowl DVC last year. For the final two minutes I was in perhaps the worst mental torture ever–we were in the lead, but with EVERY question, Rockford-Auburn crept ever closer. 44-34. One minutes left… enough for perhaps two more questions; a game deciding total of 28 points was in the balance. We had our lead–we NEEDED to keep it… I don’t even rember who buzzed in for that question. All that mattered was that it was someone from our side. And that we got it right, and we got the bonus as well. Time was ticking away, one last question…


Suddenly… a LOUD buzz rang out from the judges table. I looked at the clock in disbelief, and looked at my teammates. Each wore fatigued, but growing smiles. For perhaps the fifth time today, I let out the content of my lungs. Irena squeled (I swear she squealed!) and jumped to hug David and me. By now, I was very used to controlling my emotions, but I couldn’t stop smiling for perhaps a good minute. Still, with sportsmanship in mind, we went over to shake hands with Rockford. I didn’t look too closely at their faces–for the second time today, we had beaten them–they had been so close, coming back victorious from Wheaton North to face us again, and to lose… clearly they had the greaty responsibility of sportmanship as they left the floor for their seats. The true meaning of the victory still didn’t sink in for me.


We won.


First place. Illinois state regional champion.


And now we had a free trip to Washington D.C. to compete in nationals.




The tournament ended, the pressure lifted… and… then the mixed feelings began. I slumped back down in my chair—amazingly comfortable. Anyway, we all got free phones (last year they gave cell phones, but this year they’re just cordless, Motorola of course), and at the award ceremony, we got little medals, and a nice REAL metal trophy. We left, so much happier than ever–and then… immediately, conflicts arose. The math team state competition is on the Friday of the weeklong NSB trip to DC, and I totally understand why Irena, James, and David would be very much against missing it. Besides losing their chance at state titles, it would seriously jeopardize our school’s 7-year state championship streak. And Farrell became ever so asinine. He didn’t understand at all why we were so controlled—and he seriously seemed on the verge of going insane—first at our winning (he called person after person about how we won), and then at the math team issue. “This is the CHANCE OF A LIFETIME!—you guys HAVE to make a sacrifice! We didn’t come this far only to THROW it AWAY!” and such. His last comment on the subject was “I’m going to be talking to your math coach about this” before he resumed to call up more people. I made sure I put on my seatbelt.


David spirited us to the back while he drove, and we held a little discussion in the back. The sad thing is, I understood why Farrell was so… retarded about it. He didn’t think we had a chance before, and now that we won the state title—he probably feels as if a single, golden opportunity is right before him. Just by the way he talked and his insensitivity for our needs, it was pretty clear that he was feeling the victory for himself, far more so than for us, and he is willing to go to great lengths to secure it. It would be fine if we could substitute the team members (and I know some very good potential players) but DOE rules say that at least 4 of the original team MUST attend, or be disqualified. Sad… but whatever. We decided that we wouldn’t make a decision just yet. (whoa… that sounded funny)

The Chicago Daily Herald called for a few brief interviews. Irena later warned me that I probably shouldn’t have talked about the caffeine high, and today, I found out that they did indeed quote the worst possible thing from the interview. The article itself sucks (if you ever see Sarah McCammon, smack her for me) , complete with bad quotes, directionless writing, and a total lack of knowledge about her topic.   But oh well, I’m in the newspaper again!


On the bus, we talked about our victory–somehow, my “Silicates” asnwer was still on the top of everyone’s mind. We tried to ignore Farrell’s raves of us on his phone to the countless whoevers he was talking to. I blessed my magic notes, my magic pen, and the Celtic sword that hung around my neck. And this time, the team didn’t protest. We had won via some amazing force–it could have EASILY turned out differently. I remembered to thank David, Jon, and Felix profusely–if it wasn’t for them the day before, victory would NOT have happened. Seriously, our victory came with our practice–clearly we were the fastest buzzers out there–with the keenest ears for hints.


The ride home was otherwise uneventful, and I was still trying to sort out my emotions, but physical and mental exhaustion ruled over it all. The ride home was otherwise uneventful, and I was still trying to sort out my emotions, but physical and mental exhaustion ruled over it all. OH actually, there was one thing. At school, Farrell (a) missed the turn into the parking lot, so we had to make a big turn around school… and I’ve concluded that Farrell doesn’t know how to drive. We were going through the athletic parking lot… lotsa cars. I thought Farrell knew what he was doing, but obviously he didn’t. I saw the other bus’s mirrors… but we pretty much swiped the entire side of the bus with the Husky Bus mirrors… yeah he can’t drive for jack either…

Anyway, I was tired… m y mind was trapped in a layer of fuzzy cotton… but that was it. We got back to school at around 3 o’clock—way earlier than I’d been expecting, with absolutely no plans. I was thrown back into the boring uneventful world, and I was trying to figure out what to do. I wandered the inside of school for a while—pretty cool actually. I found a way inside, but clearly, they weren’t expecting any visitors. It was pitch dark in the hallways… and deathly quiet. Fun, but not fun enough. I called up some people, and found out that people were convening at Newell’s house to go to the auto show. Ah. Something to do. I got myself there, already deciding that I wouldn’t be driving there. Of course I didn’t realize that the only way I’d be going is if I drove myself there. I’m so used to driving, but I just didn’t feel like it at that moment. Way too tired… but there was no room in the 2 cars, and no one else was willing to drive—(selfish bastards!). But I made the safe decision not to go; I probably wouldn’t have survived a drive there, nor been awake at the show.

Twenty minutes later (after running through a tract of snow in Jeska’s lawn), somehow I found myself in front of the Asia Supermarket writing… on my Pocket PC:


Sitting here (alone of course). And I am so socially depleted (among many other things.) i don’t even know how i should feel–maybe its just the caffeine. Or maybe its the fact that i got 4 hours of sleep. Somewhere in the far back of my consciousness, i know im happy. Yes… I am happy. see? Happy. But so tired…


I wonder what’s at the auto show (well… Besides cars; what experiences); a little bundle of factors kept me from going with everyone else. First–no room in the cars. I “could” have driven on my own,but im tired now, but i didn’t want to drive. So obviously, i couldn’t go. Not that i would have done much–as happy as i am, i probably would have slept through the trip… And then the walking… Awesome cars–but so far apart… walk walk walk walk walk…


Not worth experiencing some of the last nights with my best friends–no no no…


Harper college was just insane–tension, presdure, cheering hopefulness–otherwise stuff that totally RAN my mind crazy. And it was awesome. Back here… Comparef to the hours before, everything is so subdued. Kind of a big fall… And of course, things don’t run themselves here. If I just lie down for a bit (which is exactly what i need to do right now), things go… poof–leaving behind nothing but cold vacume. But i’m still happy.


I feel like im in a whole different world.


And of course, i’m still happy–cuz right now, no amount of ANYTHING can detract from the elation.


At least, thats what the back of my mind says. I still don’t know what to feel. Maybe I need to sleep.


Oh, its Valentine’s Day isn’t it. Or… Corporate America sponsored love! Or… lol as jon calls it “Singles Awareness Day”… Never really gave it much thought, and whatever it is to be, aren’t about to start now. But of course… That does mm…


I think I ran out of energy right then, and with that, I promptly fell asleep. I was sitting in my car, and it was getting cold… but it had to be the best hour of my life—better than sex (as the dude from BLT said). I had a cool dream… don’t quite remember what it was, but it was nice…really warm. So nice that I didn’t want to leave it…

I woke up at 5 and it was suddenly colder. The fogged up windows had annoyingly turned to frost, and I was very very hungry. Then I remembered if was V-Day, and called up my Imaginary Valentine (contrary to the title, she actually isn’t imaginary), but alas, she wasn’t home—SO, I decided to spend my time with someone new… and had a great (if not excruciatingly sleepy) time–


And then I went home. Fell asleep again, and didn’t wake up until 9 hours later.