Boonsboro teams take top spots at Physics Olympics

May 16, 2010|By JANET HEIM

BOONSBORO -- The week before the spring University of Maryland Physics Olympics, Boonsboro High School physics teacher Ralph von Philp reminded his two teams that even though they were competing against each other, he expected a friendly competition, with the teams encouraging each other.

What he didn't anticipate was that the Boonsboro teams would tie for first, with the egg drop event score being the tiebreaker.

As the results of the April 17 competition at College Park, Md., were projected on the screen in one of the physics lecture halls, both teams erupted in excitement about their strong showing out of 13 teams.

Boonsboro-Blue edged Boonsboro-White by two points as the overall winner.

"I was really happy. I knew that we had done well, but I thought it was great that we tied," said Blue Team leader Rebecca Hull. She said she considered both teams first-place winners, that the tiebreaker was just a technicality.


"We all work really well as a team," said teammate Thaddeus Atkins. "I think our school has the most devoted teachers."

High school teams from Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., were eligible to compete to determine the championship school.

White Team leader Tyler Thompson said it was "just kind of crazy, that two teams from a down-to-earth school finished first and second."

He said being part of the preparation months before the event was rewarding.

The competition included eight events: bridge building, egg drop, laser bull's-eye, balloon distancer, projectile launcher, optics encounter, and two mystery events on inertia and tubes.

Advanced preparation was required for the bridge, projectile launcher and balloon racer events. The egg drop devices made out of printer paper had to be prepared that day, with weight factoring into the final score, before they were launched from a fourth-story window with two eggs as passengers.

Von Philp said his students "really pulled a lot of things together in the final days of preparation."

The day before the competition, he thought both teams might finish in the top three.

"I knew the kids had done a good job preparing, but sometimes things just don't work out the way you hope. ... You also just need things to 'click' on competition day. On Saturday, it clicked for us," von Philp said.

"I thought it was really awesome that Boonsboro really cleaned the board. It's a positive reflection on our teacher," Jacob Rockwell said.

Boonsboro High also had three teams at the Central Maryland Physics Olympics. The Feb. 27 event was at Liberty High School in Eldersburg, Md.

The team of Rebecca Hull, Jacob Rockwell, Jake Spence and Michael Webber finished third out of 42 teams.

"It was cool how a smaller school could compete with bigger ones," Spence said.

Marcus Allnutt, Thaddeus Atkins, Richard Casto, Jeremy Hardy, Arthur Lacey, Chad Love and Tyler Thompson also competed, and all but Spence also participated in the University of Maryland Physics Olympics.

Ben Gantz and David Heim joined the Blue Team for the University of Maryland competition. Katrina Bushko, Bobby Martin and Laurin Smith designed and built bridges for that event, but were not able to attend.

Hull said the Central Maryland event was more of a "think-on-the-spot" competition.

Von Philp said he debates every year whether to commit the time after school and on weekends to physics competitions, but said the commitment of his students, their work ethic, how much they enjoy it and their recent successes make the decision easy.

"It never ceases to amaze me that all these students volunteer so much time and effort for these competitions, even though it does not affect their grade in my class. I don't even give extra credit points," von Philp said.

He said he preferred students to be involved because they wanted to be, not because there was an incentive.

Photos, results and more information about Physics Olympics can be found at

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