Deep in the Heart of Texas

Samohi's Ocean Sciences Bowl team learned some valuable lessons over the weekend about winning and losing.

I just spent a looong weekend in Texas, hanging out at Texas A&M Galveston overlooking the Bay and the lime green piles of sulfur lining the shores of the port. I flew out to watch the finals of the National Ocean Sciences Bowl and to root for the team from Santa Monica High School. Go Vikings!

I flew in Friday and got to the venerable Galvez Hotel on the Galveston breakwater by the afternoon. Beautiful hotel, but Galveston’s beaches are no match for the sand and surf of Santa Monica Bay. That evening, we went to Moody Garden Aquarium to hear Her Deepness herself give an inspirational talk on the importance of the oceans and why everyone needs to fight for them. Sylvia Earle always has this calm, persuasive way of making humanity realize the value of ocean stewardship.

Sylvia was nice enough to hang with the Samohi crew during dinner in the aquarium. Little did I know that this would be the first of many meals dominated by single-use plastics. Like every event she attends, Sylvia was a rock star, signing autographs, taking photos and answering everyone’s questions.

On Saturday, the games began. Watching my son Zack and his teammates, Dana, Mari and Maddy, compete at the marathon competition on Saturday marked one of the proudest moments of my life. Ingo Gaida, the Samohi Oceans Bowl team coach, did an extraordinary job preparing the students for the nationwide tourney. These guys already know more about the world’s oceans than I’ll ever know.

And they were joined by teams from Alaska to Hawaii, New England to Florida. The whole nation was well represented.

By the end of the day, there were three more plastic-served meals, consisting of Polystyrene plates and cutlery and Styrofoam cups. I don’t think any of our food came on readily recyclable plastics. Haven’t any numbers other than sixes even hit Texas yet? And recycling must not have hit Galveston.

The teams were culled down to the final six. Samohi was the top seed and finished the day undefeated, winning every game handily. This guaranteed a spot in the Final Four. Even the incessant local greeting of “Howdy” and our growing contribution to the global marine crisis didn’t get to me on Saturday. I was so proud.

We decided to ditch another plastic dinner and celebrate with grub at Gaido’s in homage to the coach’s almost namesake restaurant. A magical day ended with us sitting along Galveston high school students dressed to the nines for their prom dinner at the shoreline seafood restaurant that survived the last hundred years of hurricanes.  The giant green crab on the restaurant roof served as the perfect cap to a perfect day.

Saturday was more wonderful and stressful than watching UCLA get to the Final Four. Unfortunately, Sunday brought back flashbacks of Florida and Memphis State. This was Samohi’s Alamo.

To put the end of this story in perspective, I have to say I’m not real big on excuses. I’m a big supporter of sports talk show host Jim Rome’s simple “Scoreboard!” philosophy he uses whenever anyone whines about a bad call deciding a game’s outcome. However, I’m also one of those guys that gets pretty obsessed about being right. I have a very bad habit of interrupting others to correct them. No one likes a know-it-all, but I love the truth.

Samohi’s first game in the Final Four was a repeat of a game against Marshfield HS in Wisconsin, a team they beat handily on Saturday. Samo had a slim lead of eight points at the break, but then they played their worst half of the tourney in the second.

Zack challenged on the question, “What’s the biggest marine protected area in the world?” Zack disagreed with the answer given and challenged with the answer, “Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean.” The science judge overruled the challenge, even though Zack was right. The judges said it was the Kiribati MPA that contains the Phoenix Islands. Chagos is a newer MPA and much bigger than Kiribati.

Thoughts of all of the “good science” coming out of the mouths of Texas legislators, school boards and petro execs came to mind.

Little did I know that this was a sign of events to come. Wisconsin closed with a 20-point run to beat Samohi by 20.

Next up in the double elimination competition was a strong team from Lexington, Mass. Samo, perhaps shell-shocked from the previous game, was scoreless in the first half. But they went for an aggressive full court press in the second, nearly overcoming an 18-point deficit in about two minutes.

Then, the basketball finals at the Munich Olympics happened. Samohi ran into the East German judge. Evander Holyfield was DQ’d. Chads hung in Florida. We got jobbed.

The question in question: “Which of the following nations do not have a claim in Antarctica?” Zack gambled and buzzed with an answer before any choices were given. He answered, “United States.”

His reward? A four-point penalty for an interrupt with the “wrong” answer. The correct answer? “United States of America”! Then Lexington got a free question and an easy bonus question — a 24-point turnaround in a tight game. Game over. Team America!!! Yee Hah!! Don’t mess with Texas!!!

Lexington went on to the finals where they lost a squeaker to the Badgers. Wisconsin earned their third straight Oceans Bowl title.

Meanwhile, I had a difficult parenting moment with Zack. What could I say?  “Good try”? Or “Third in the nation is amazing”?   “I’m incredibly proud of you, your team and your coach”?

I said those things, but the conversation immediately went to the obvious. Scientific answers at a competition are right or wrong. Adding the words of America didn’t make Zack’s answer any more right.

I think the lesson that “sometimes things don’t go your way, even when you do everything right” is important to know, but it isn’t a lesson. “Life isn’t always fair” and “It’s only a game” aren’t much solace for kids that have studied for thousands of hours throughout high school.

I know how badly Zack wanted to help coach Gaida get his first National Ocean Sciences Bowl title. And Gaida felt the same for Zack. They both took the loss extremely hard because they have such a strong teacher-student relationship.

However, that many kids, coaches, and judges came up to Gaida and the students to offer condolences showed the true spirit of the competition. I can honesty say that all of the players at the finals were good sports and none of the teams took a win-at-all cost approach. Wisconsin was a worthy champ.

I know Zack’s favorite movie quote is “Talladega Nights’” Ricky Bobby’s outrageous: “If you’re not first, you’re last.”  But this weekend showed me that third is pretty damn good, especially when your performance is so greatly admired and respected by your peers.


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