SALEM - A team of students from South Salem High School will travel to Rhode Island to compete in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl after winning Oregon State University's Salmon Bowl.

The competition tests high school students on their oceanography knowledge, said Larry O'Neill, an OSU graduate student in physical oceanography, who coordinated the competition. South Salem High School science teacher Twyla Smith coaches the team, which includes Chris Mandas, Caroline Roth, Peyton Babcock, Stephanie Anderson and Chris Symeonides.

Second-place was taken by a team from Portland's Catlin Gabel School and a group of students from Newport High School took third. OSU's fifth annual Salmon Bowl was the Oregon Regional Competition of the National Ocean Sciences Bowl, which includes 20 regional competitions across the nation. The Salmon Bowl is annually hosted by OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences.

Twenty high school teams from across Oregon spent a recent Saturday at OSU's Salmon Bowl fielding queries about how oceans affect climate, economic well-being, history, culture and quality of life.

While the competition was tough, the South Salem team admits they had an advantage - three of the school's five competitors were veterans of last year's second-place South Salem team.

"It was pretty tough, they asked a lot of tough questions, but it was really more fun this year," said South Salem veteran Chris Symeonides, a junior. "Right now we're really trying to get prepared for the national competition in Rhode Island."

The national competition begins on April 28 in Providence. The South Salem team will take time on their trip to explore Mystic Seaport in Connecticut and ecosystems at the edge of Narragansett Bay.

The stakes are high with prizes such as trips to Hawaii, Florida, the Great Lakes and California focusing on oceanographic research, and gift certificates for scientific equipment up for grabs.

"We're busy preparing," Symeonides said. "We keep meeting after school to study."

"My dad has been helping a lot; making up questions for us to help us study for Rhode Island," said Peyton Babcock, a South Salem junior. While Babcock admits to doing a fair portion of studying with the team prior to the OSU win, he said devotion to television helped push him to first-place.

"I'm convinced that anything I know about science is due to sitting in front of the television and watching the Discovery Channel." Babcock, who is planning a career in genetic research, said he found the competition tough - and not just mentally. "The thing was, that by the end of the competition, I found that we were all incredibly tired."

As with the rest of his teammates Babcock is excited about the chance to travel to Rhode Island and is closely eyeing the first-place prize package, which includes opportunities for the team to study dolphins, volcanism and naval research projects in the Hawaiian Islands.

Chris Mandas, a senior, said it "feels great to finally take first place and get a chance to go to the national competition.

"Our success this year shows growth and accomplishment and gives us something to work toward in the upcoming weeks."

The bowl format involves a timed competition of multiple-choice or short-answer questions within the broad category of the oceans. Practice with when and how to answer questions is critical, South Salem students said.

More than 100 people, businesses and organizations helped stage the event. More information on the National Ocean Sciences Bowl is available on the World Wide Web.

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Twyla Smith, 503-399-3252