HUNTINGTON - When 17 students with the Huntington Middle School Science Olympiad team traveled to Dayton, Ohio, in May for the Science Olympiad National Tournament, they weren't expecting to place, let alone bring home a gold medal.
"It's only our third year, so for us it's more of a learning experience because we're not expected to place or have our names announced except for in the parade of states," said Blaise Schray, a rising eighth-grader on the team. "We just thought that whatever happens, the goal is to have fun."
So when Huntington Middle School was announced as the first-place winner in the Wright Stuff event, the entire team, along with the dedicated coaches and parents, was in disbelief.
"As soon as the announcer said the word 'West,' we started jumping up and down and cheering because we knew it was us," said Leann Haines, a seventh-grade science teacher at HMS and one of the coaches for the team.
As part of the 2017 Science Olympiad National Tournament, hundreds of students across the nation in middle and high schools come together to compete in 23 events related to science.
Haines explained that teams of two or three compete in each event that either involves building something, taking a test or some sort of lab.
For the Wright Stuff event, the winning team included Schray, 12, and Andrew Hong, 11 and a rising seventh-grader.
As part of this event, Schray said the goal is to build the lightest possible model airplane that the rules will allow and make it fly for the longest possible time.
The planes consist of frames made of sticks of low-density wood, which are glued together and then covered with a thin layer of paper or plastic. In order to make the plane take off, Schray said they wind up a rubber band that has two metal loops on the end. The rubber band is then hooked to the plane in a way that spins the propeller and makes the plane take flight.
He added that they also had to create a plane that has the ability to turn on its own so that when it's flown inside, it doesn't hit the walls or ceiling.
When Schray and his teammate, Hong, began practicing for this event last year, Schray said they were happy if they could even get the plane to take off and stay in the air for 10 seconds.
However, several months later at the national competition, the duo won with a time of 2:17. Schray said the second-place team was right on their tales with a time of 2:15.
"Winning first place felt great," Hong said. "And getting first place at nationals for the first time will give us a step in a journey that Huntington Middle School has never stepped on before."
Haines said this is only the third year West Virginia has competed in the Science Olympiad, which is now in its 33rd year.
"To come in first place in one of the events was extremely overwhelming and satisfying," Haines said. "This is the first time West Virginia has even been mentioned on a national stage" for the Science Olympiad.
Haines said her school is not only at a disadvantage because of their lack of experience, but also because of the lack of coaches.
For Huntington Middle School's team, Haines said she and fellow eighth-grade science teacher Meghan Arrington are the only two coaches, though they have had some help from a Science Olympiad enthusiast and Ohio Honda engineer John Hance.
Arrington said some teams have a coach and an outside expert for each event.
"It's just us," Arrington said. "We can help them and train them, but in the end it's up to them, so whatever they put in is what they're going to get out of it, and if they can work together and put in the work then you can get a gold medal out of it."
Although they may be small in numbers, the one thing they don't lack is support.
"Every person on our team made this possible," Schray said. "We might not have all been able to go on the stage, but we couldn't have won without the help of our team."
Haines said they also had the support of the school and the community.
"They were all behind us," she said.
Schray and Hong said being involved in the Science Olympiad has inspired them to pursue jobs in the science field when they grow up. Hong said he is interested in mechanical engineering, while Schray said he doesn't know what he wants to do but he knows it will involve science.
"I think that doing Science Olympiad and making kids inspired to be in Science Olympiad can help us invent better things for our lives," Hong said. "Who knows? One day there may be a mysterious murder and no one knows what happened, but in the future we may be able to solve it and say, 'We didn't know this at first, but doing Science Olympiad taught us how.'"
There are 11 Science Olympiad teams total in middle and high schools throughout West Virginia, though Haines said she is hoping to encourage more schools to create teams.
2017 Huntington Middle School Science Olympiad team
Under national rules, teams consist of 15 members and two alternates.
Team members and alternates: Andrew Castle, Emma Conaway, Nick Copley, Chaz Ellison, Casey Farrell, Andrew Hong, Justin Legg, Darby McGinnis, Emma Pittman, Blaise Schray, Maddox Schultz, Natalie Sheils, Socrates Svingos, Lucy Weir, Katie Williams, Alex Lindberg and Hannah Runyon.
Coaches: Leann Haines and Meghan Arrington.