Alaska Tsunami Bowl Organizers, Teams, and Volunteers Triumph over Not-So-Perfect Storm

Avalanches turn back five of ten NOSB teams trying to get to Seward for 2006 competition

By Phyllis Shoemaker and Susan Sugai, Alaska NOSB coordinators

Contacts: Phyllis Shoemaker, 224-4312; and Susan Sugai, 474-5415.

SEWARD, Alaska: The home-field advantage really made a difference this year as avalanches blocked half of the teams trying to attend the 2006 Alaska Tsunami Bowl in Seward, Alaska. The Seward Shrimp Hawks became the first team since East Anchorage in the initial 1998 Alaska Regional NOSB competition to successfully defeat Juneau-Douglas and capture first place overall in the bowl. The other champions of the weekend were the organizers who valiantly surmounted nearly every obstacle except the avalanches that released huge quantities of snow and debris over the Seward and Sterling Highways.

Teams from across the state were scheduled to arrive in Seward on Thursday, February 9. They would begin the competition the following day with presentations of their research project in front of the other competing students, the public, and a panel of judges made up of scientists working in marine education, research, and management fields. But teams and volunteers en route to Seward were greeted on the 9th by 70-mph winds, snows falling at 3 inches per hour, and whiteout conditions on roads that were still hazardously icy from freezing rain earlier in the week. Coach Clay Good, of Juneau-Douglas High School, piloted a van with marginal summer radials down the Seward Highway in what he described as "total white-knuckle conditions" shortly before the Alaska Department of Transportation closed the road until noon on Friday because of extremely hazardous conditions and several avalanches.

The two Juneau teams were the only out-of-town teams in Seward by Friday morning when the research project presentations were scheduled to take place. When other teams and officials arrived in Girdwood on Friday, it was raining and they were told the road wouldn't open until that evening. Hurried arrangements were made to have the students present their projects to the judges via videoconference. The students in Seward from Juneau-Douglas High School and Seward High School used videoconference equipment at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Seward Marine Center. The teams from Skyview High School and Soldotna High School used videoconference equipment at Kenai Peninsula Community College. The Cordova and Unalaska teams, stuck in Anchorage, used videoconference equipment at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The Kenny Lake team, out of contact with no cell phone, drove down to Seward during the brief window when the highway was open on Friday afternoon and gave their presentation to the judges by teleconference Saturday morning.

In spite of technology glitches at the three locations, strange surroundings, and the absence of the friendly faces of other teams, eight of the nine scheduled teams gave their presentations in a most professional manner. The Twindly Bridge team from Wasilla decided to skip the oral project presentation and make a run for Seward while the road was open. They made it into Seward Friday evening.

With the road open on Saturday, teams left at 8 a.m. hoping to be in Seward by noon for the quiz bowl. However, a major avalanche near Moose Pass again prevented Skyview, Soldotna, Cordova, Unalaska, and Angoon from making it to Seward. Cordova, who was leading at the end of the project portion of the competition, spent Saturday night at Moose Pass while the Soldotna teams went back home for the night and Unalaska and Angoon retreated to Anchorage because of rapidly deteriorating conditions. Meanwhile, Phyllis Shoemaker was revising competition rounds for the teams that had made it to Seward by Saturday (Seward, Juneau Delta, Juneau Zissou, Kenny Lake, and Twindly Bridge), hoping to include the other teams into rounds on Sunday.

Unfortunately, the road remained closed through 7 p.m. Sunday. Skyview, Soldotna, Unalaska, Angoon and Cordova were unable to participate in the quiz bowl. Especially missed was the team from Cordova, heavily favored to win this year's contest. The Cordova students turned in the best research paper and oral presentation thereby winning a $1000 award for the best project and scholarships to the University of Alaska Southeast. But because they were not able to get to Seward for the quiz bowl, they were not eligible for the overall title.

The quiz bowl rounds were nail-biting close, and the students provided some exciting matches over the Saturday and Sunday round-robin event. Seward squeaked out the win with a correct answer on the final question as time was running out. With a second place in the quiz bowl and the highest research project score among the teams that competed in Seward, The Seward Shrimp Hawks won the overall competition and the right to represent Alaska at the National Competition in Monterey, California, in May. Juneau-Douglas Team Zissou lost only one match the entire weekend for first place in the quiz bowl and second place overall.

Teams, coaches, volunteers, and organizers were disappointed that they were unable to physically get together in spite of amazing efforts by teams and organizers alike. The Unalaska team, turned back twice by avalanches, found their journey home from the Tsunami bowl no easier than getting to it. Their Penn Air flight flew out to Dutch Harbor only to turn around and fly back to Anchorage on Sunday. Clay Good of Juneau-Douglas, who has been involved in eight of nine Alaska Tsunami Bowls, said this event—his last—will be the most memorable one.