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17th Penguin Bowl brings ocean to Youngstown, remembers founder ‘Dr. Ray’

National Ocean Sciences Bowl at YSU Saturday

By Ed Runyan

Sunday, February 3, 2019

By Ed Runyan


“The United States has how many marine sanctuaries?” students were asked in a team competition Saturday at Youngstown State University’s Kilcawley Center.

Neither team – from Ursuline and Boardman high schools – had the right answer. It was 13.

“Which of the following is not a biologically significant nutrient found in sea water?” the questioner asked. “Potassium,” an Ursuline student answered.

“Yes,” the questioner said.

The questions were asked in one of dozens of competitions involving 10 high schools at the 17th annual National Ocean Sciences Bowl. Teams from as far away as Louisville, Ky., competed in the game, which is called the Penguin Bowl.

The top-finishing teams were Centerville A, first; Centerville B, second; Boardman B, third; and Ursuline, fourth.

The late Dr. Ray Beiersdorfer, a professor of geologic and environmental sciences at YSU, started the competition after seeing one in Boulder, Colo.

“Dr. Ray” died Oct. 11 after a heart attack. In his memory, many of the students and organizers wore Hawaiian shirts, which was one of Dr. Ray’s signature clothing styles.

His wife, Susie Beiersdorfer, a part-time environmental geology professor at YSU, said many people expressed to her how happy they are that the Penguin Bowl continued after her husband’s death.

“They were so happy to be here, sad he’s not here, but happy it’s continuing,” she said of the competition organized this year by Margie Marks of the Pittsburgh Zoo and Professors Colleen McLean and Felicia Armstrong of YSU’s Department of Geologic and Environmental Sciences. “Some of the coaches have been here from the beginning.”

Armstrong noted that YSU is among the minority of about 25 competition sites that is not in an ocean state, but the YSU competition has led to top-three finishes at the national competition, which this year will be April 11-14 in Washington, D.C. The top team at the YSU competition, Centerville A, advances.

Alex Stoneman, an Ursuline senior, said Ursuline does not have an oceanography class, so he prepares for the Penguin Bowl through self-study.

Stoneman says he’s interested in biomedical and chemical engineering, and learning about the ocean is a great way to prepare for that career because of the amount of medicine that can be made from the contents of the ocean.

He likes that the Penguin Bowl’s questions touch on biology, chemistry, even literature. He competes in a number of types of education-related competitions.

Mara Garzanich and Marrwa Karmagi, both ninth-graders at Boardman, said the competition has caused them to consider ocean-related careers. Garzanich says she’s interested in marine pharmacology, which involves making medicines from marine organisms.

“I was always interested in medicine,” Marrwa said. “My mom and aunts are doctors. “But now I’m thinking of becoming a marine biologist.”