Education, Featured, Science, Technology

20 Years of the Tsunami Bowl, Will Seward Keep Hosting?

Marc Swanson and Phyllis Shoemaker, current and past Bowl organizers, both from Seward

This past weekend, Seward hosted the Alaska Tsunami National Ocean Sciences Bowl for its 20th year, an academic competition that brought in 120 high school students and 80 judges and volunteers from around the State of Alaska. Seward “rolled out the red carpet” for the participants, said Bowl Czar (lead organizer) and Seward local, Marc Swanson. He explained how businesses in the Seward area have been generous with food, facilities and their volunteer hours ever since the Bowl’s inception in 1998. Swanson works for University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), in their Seward based offices doing outreach and has lived in Seward for years. Swanson took over the role of Bowl Czar this year, upon the retirement of Phyllis Shoemaker, who had held the role for the previous 19 years.

The Tsunami Bowl held in Seward is the Alaska region’s annual competition, held each year in February. Unlike other sports and academic competitions, the Bowl has historically not rotated around to different towns, but instead has always been hosted by the community of Seward. This year, speculation began about whether Seward will continue to get to host each year, or whether the Bowl will begin to be held in different communities around Alaska. “Speaking as someone based down here, I’d hate to lose it,” said Alaska Sea Life Center employee and Bowl judge, Richard Hocking. It is unclear at this point where the competition might be held next year, or if it will, in fact, move to a new community.

Hocking spoke of his long involvement with the academic competition. He remembered the first year, when the competition was held in the newly built Sea Life Center, which had been cleared for occupancy by the City of Seward, but was not yet full of staff and animals, making it a good location for hosting the competitors. Hocking has been volunteering with the Bowl since the first year. “I like the interaction between people from outside the community.”

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Volunteers and judges were lodged at the Harbor 360 Hotel, while student competitors and their coaches stayed at the Breeze Inn for the time period between Thursday and Sunday afternoons. The hotel costs are covered by monies from UAF, as are the costs of many of the meals and the use of venues. The gathering of students is intended to be educational, and Seward provided the opportunity for marine related field trips. The weekend’s schedule included the chance to tour the Sea Life Center, AVTEC’s marine simulator and the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery. Breakfasts were prepared and served at the Seward American Legion by their volunteers, who were recently honored with a Chamber of Commerce award for providing services such as these.

The Tsunami Bowl competition began out of a desire to encourage more high school students to pursue marine and other sciences. UAF has their ocean access and facilities located here in Seward, which made it natural to host the competition in Seward. “We are the ocean connection for UAF” said Phyllis Shoemaker, previous Bowl Czar. Although Shoemaker has retired from her role as czar, she continues to volunteer with the competition, because “it’s fun and nice to see kids and parents and teachers excited about science.”

Although Seward didn’t have a high school team competing in the Tsunami Bowl this year, Seward high school students, Elena Hamner & Emma Moore still found a way to compete, joining a team from Wasilla, the Jolly Fish. Seward was further represented by Council Member Sue McClure, who served as a judge in the Music Room during buzzer rounds on Saturday. The winners of this year’s Bowl were defending champions, the Mat-Tsunamis of the Mat-Su Career and Technical High School, whose coach Kathy Kern directed all praise towards the students, who have been practicing twice weekly since October. This year’s national competition will be held in Corvalis, Oregon in April.

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