I’m a lifetime Bruin (birth, preschool, bachelor’s, Master’s, doctorate and currently teaching) so the title of this post doesn’t come easy. I couldn’t bring myself to write “I Heart USC” because of the history: Rodney Peete running down a certain UCLA football victory or Trojan guard Harold Miner punking the Don MacLean-led Bruins. My own son Jake wore cardinal and gold braces just to piss me off. Despite the fact I’ve sat on the USC Sea Grant Advisory Board for over a decade, I hate that white horse almost as much as I hate the Trojan fight song.
All of that changed last Saturday. The Santa Monica High School Vikings (they wear blue and gold and use the UCLA fight song as their own) competed in the Surf Bowl, the L.A.-Orange County competition of NOAA’s regional Ocean Sciences Bowl. As always, USC and JPL hosted the battle of the aqua-nerds. Last year, USC played host to another heart-wrenching defeat that shattered the Gold family: Arcadia (clad in cardinal and gold) beat Samohi on the last question of the tourney at the buzzer. A half-court three-pointer cost Samo a trip to St. Pete, Florida.
This year was different.
The Ingo Gaida-coached team of Madeleine Youngs, Dana Ritchie, Mari Leganoux and Zack Gold (yes, I’m a proud Dad) had the opportunity to change history by playing defending champ Arcadia in the finals once again. Although they lost a preliminary game to Arcadia, the Samo team hung in there to go undefeated in the afternoon playoff bracket. Their final victory was a stunning come-from-behind performance that followed Arcadia breaking out to a 30-point lead, about equivalent of a similar lead in hoops. The ‘SC jinx for the Golds is finally over!
I came away from the day as an incredibly proud poppa, on the verge of exhaustion from the stress of watching Zack and the gang compete. It is a lot easier to testify in Congress or at the Regional Water Board than it is to watch your son play a brainiac competition in the subject of your expertise. I was blown away by the knowledge of these students and the difficulty of the questions. The nature of the game is a combination of Trivial Pursuit and really hard short-answer questions. A series of questions on the Marine Mammal Protection Act would have challenged even Joel Reynolds, NRDC’s whale lawyer extraordinaire.
The range of topics included marine biology, chemistry, marine policy, geography, history, oceanography and physics. Time after time, I found myself playing along only to see that the students usually knew a lot more than I did about the oceans. Forget about ocean literate. These guys are ready for graduate school. And Zack is a bio and marine policy expert (I don’t know where he got that from!), so I can honestly say that he would destroy me in the pressure cooker of competition. It’s pretty humbling to know less than your teenage son about the field you’ve spent nearly a quarter century in.
Unlike Aaron Rodgers, Samohi’s squad isn’t off to Disney World to celebrate their big win. Nope. Their reward is a date in Galveston, Texas. I’ve been to Galveston. Let’s just say that the students won’t have much trouble focusing on the competition. The ocean geek Olympics is April 29-May 1 and I plan to be there. Fight on, indeed!