No ‘I’ in team: Rickards Science Olympiad defies odds, garners first ever first-place finishes

Published: Apr. 12, 2021 at 3:24 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - 75 students at Rickards High School put their STEM skills to the test, and a select few managed to place first in a statewide Science Olympiad Competition.

The Rickards team is typically credited as being the underdog in these competitions, but they are now hoping to take home the national gold.

For Sina Mollaei and Akash Bhat, the President and VP of the Rickards Science Olympiad team, sharing it is their pride and joy.

“Prior to this year, state has always seemed like something impossible to do well in,” shared Bhat.

Year after year, the club competes in various competitions, always hoping to snag the national title.

Biology teacher Paula Hall says that after last year’s cancelled tournament and the club’s history of never placing outside of the top five, this year they decided there was no ‘I’ in team.

“We started having more student involvement,” Hall said. “Students were captains of individual events, and students were in charge of making sure their peers were on track and studying and doing things for the events.”

The leader of the Raiders says that the small change took them from underdogs to top competitors.

Mollaei, the President of the club added, “Slowly and surely, our team scores started increasing and we started doing better. We were competing at places like MIT, Stanford, Yale and Princeton. Keeping that motivation, that we are not just doing this for ourselves but the team glory really made a difference.”

45 students this year qualified for state and 15 placed, for the first time ever, in first place.

Now, come May 22, they will be virtually heading to Arizona to take the national stage.

“It was really hard to believe at first. I am just really proud of what we did and proud of my team,” expressed Bhat. “It’s just still kind of hard to believe that we managed to get first after our previous highest placing was fifth, and we managed to beat all the top teams in Florida.”

Their hope is that this is not the first nor the last time Tallahassee’s finest shows to the rest of Florida, what the 850 is made of.

“Especially for these younger generations they can see and look up that Raiders won first and think I can do that too,” shares Mollaei, “I remember walking in as a freshman and walking into the school hearing about our 5th placement at state competition, and we thought we could do that too. And four years later here we are, first in the state.”

The team competes in 24 different events, ranging from astronomy to chemistry, anatomy and physiology, as well as experimental design.

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