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.

Continue reading

Fight On!

The Gold Family isn't ready to embrace Traveler fully. But Samohi's victory at USC-hosted Ocean Sciences Bowl helped a bit.

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Rethinking Our Future

img_44871Last Sunday on the Santa Monica Promenade, the students from Santa Monica High School’s Team Marine unveiled their opus to the global marine debris crisis: REthink.  The 7′ x 21′ art installation contains 34,727 bottle caps and includes a wide variety of marine life species made of the plastic tops. Think of a Rose Parade float, but one made of trash that doesn’t degrade in the marine environment after a millennium.

The students chose the “Rethink” theme to emphasize that solving the marine debris crisis involves simple personal choices.

Continue reading