Tough Parenting

Santa Monica High School competed admirably Saturday at the National Ocean Science Bowl Regionals at USC. They learned some life lessons during an exhausting day, and so did I.

The team, led by fellow Bruin alum and biology teacher Ingo Gaida, has a history of success in the event, including a national championship and a top five placing. The regional, run by USC and JPL, included schools from Los Angeles and Orange counties. My son Zack serves as  the marine biology expert on the team so I decided to watch my fellow ocean nerds in action. The grueling competition started at 8 a.m. and didn’t finish until after 6 p.m. Samohi played about ten 45-minute matches before the final outcome. I have a chronic heart condition, atrial fibrillation, and the contest put my ticker to the test.

Samo’s team, made up of senior Sky Crane and three juniors including my son, Dana Ritchie and Madeline Youngs, won its first seven games easily before running in to Arcadia High’s team. Those brainiacs squeaked by Samo by seven points. Because it was a double elimination tourney, Samo still had a chance. The kids won another game before facing their arch-nemesis again. This time Samo beat Arcadia setting up a winner-take-all final game. The champs would get a free trip to Florida to compete in nationals.

I’m a huge sports fan, a homer that suffers with every Lakers, Dodgers and Bruins loss. (Don’t get me going on the current Lake Show roadie — a roadie with No D!) I couldn’t even watch the final game because of the pressure. I couldn’t even imagine how the 16- and 17-year old kids felt.

Samo had a 15-point lead at the half, but I still wasn’t allowing myself to think about the Sunshine State. One thing was clear, these kids know a heck of a lot more about ocean science than I do. I hope they all become future ocean conservationists and scientists. Our planet would be a lot better off. 

“Jeopardy” is child’s play compared to the questions these students were answering. Samo clung to a five-point lead with time running out. An Arcadia student — not the captain that scored over half the team’s points, but a young lady that was pretty quiet until then — came through in the clutch with a four-point answer on an obscure geology challenge question.

Arcadia trailed by one and earned the bonus question. The final question seemed impossible. Surely, Arcadia didn’t know the answer. If Arcadia missed, Samo would be flying to the land of Gators, hanging chads and lethal Karenia blooms. They conferred briefly, discussing which possible answer seemed most likely, and shouted out the correct response!

For me, SC will always be Mudville. I’ve seen too many good Bruin football teams (they used to be good) lose to SC in the Coliseum. I saw the Rams lose the NFC championship to the Vikings in the Mud Bowl. But all of that pales in comparison to watching Arcadia win the Oceans Science Bowl at the expense of my son and my alma mater.

Samo lost on a Hail Mary, a 30-foot three-pointer at the buzzer, a two-out homer in the bottom of the ninth. Arcadia’s team, in their cardinal and gold polos (of course), were euphoric. After all, they were going to Disney World. And my son and his teammates, after fighting all the way back to the precipice of glory, were crestfallen. Second place doesn’t get you to nationals.

A few minutes later, those kids taught me something. I thought they’d be crying and angry. After all, I carried the Bruin loss in the Final Four to Memphis around with me for three days before I got over it. And I was just a spectator at the Alamodome. Nope. These guys were a little bummed, but they gave each other hugs and cracked jokes. Ingo gave them a pep talk that they really didn’t even need.

Sky, Maddie, Dana and Zack gave it their all. No one made a glaring mistake. They played superbly as a team. No excuses and no regrets. They all realized that they ran into a strong team and sometimes fate intervenes. Sometimes you lose even though you’ve done everything possible to prepare you to win.

I’ve been there. I’ve been there on numerous environmental issues in front of city councils and water boards. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a crushing loss as well as those four students. I definitely learned a lot and grew to admire how well Ingo prepared them for the tournament and, more importantly, prepared them for life in the real world.

There’s always next year, and that’s not the musings of a myopic Cubs fan for whom next year never comes. Here’s a tip: I’m pretty sure the Arcadia captain is a senior. And Samo has three Oceans Bowl veterans coming back.

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