Mahomet-Seymour WYSE team

Members of the Mahomet-Seymour High School WYSE team display their second-place team trophy earned at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston on April 24, 2019.

MATTOON — Academically inclined Bulldogs flexed their muscles and came away with a second-place trophy from the state Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering Academic Challenge on April 24.

The Mahomet-Seymour High School’s WYSE team earned a victory in the Eastern Illinois University Academic Challenge sectional March 6 to advance to the state finals, also at EIU. Mahomet-Seymour coach Eric Potter said Clayton High School of Missouri took first place ahead of Mahomet-Seymour, with third through fifth places taken by Vernon Hills, Fenwick and Crystal Lake.

“It’s just kind of a culmination of a lot of intelligent kids but also hard work,” Potter said of the state-level winnings for the Bulldogs. “When you put those two things together, there’s going to be a lot of success.

“The WYSE team and the math team — the places they’ve gotten in the (last four years) ... it’s pretty cool to see how math team and WYSE has just jumped up to that next level,” Potter said this week. “It’s cool to see.”

Individual awards included: Michal Strzebonski, first in math; Mrinali Kesavadas, third in biology; Nick Morrow, fourth in physics and fourth in math; Jessica Berkman, fourth in biology and fourth in English; Marina Moore, fifth in English; and Colton Brunner, fifth in biology.

Other team members included Conrad Ebbecke, Sarah Amjad, Lauren Penick, Cassidy Waldrep, Carly Pogue, Seth Honnigford, Annie Bao and Emily Berkman.

“Everyone takes two tests, and it’s your job to get as good as you can at those two tests, by taking a ton of practice tests. Then you show up and you just do as well as you can,” said Jessica Berkman, in explaining how WYSE basically works. A senior, she’s on her third year in biology.

“It’s also been two or three years since I’ve been in biology, so it’s kind of a struggle for me to keep it up and keep all of that knowledge maintained,” Jessica said.

Nick Morrow, on the other hand, said the progression of learning more on a specific topic each year helps him.

“The math competition is the same throughout the year — every year it got a little easier because I learned more about math,” the senior said. “But there’s always other people that are great at math.”

Senior Cassidy Waldrep focused on math and physics at the competition.

“I personally like the math section a lot because I’m on math team also, so that one’s easier for me,” she said. “The physics test is probably one of the hardest tests. It’s just a whole other level of ... I don’t even know. It was very hard this time.”

WYSE tryouts are each December, Jessica explained, via practice tests that Potter then scores and uses to divide students onto teams, separated by subject. Regionals, sectionals and state competitions then push the students’ skill levels.

“I joined because I really like the academic teams here at Mahomet-Seymour,” said first-year WYSE competitor Seth Honnigford, a junior. “I think they offer a great amount of opportunity, especially math team ... WYSE, etc. I’ve always been interested in math and chemistry, so I thought I might try for those, and I got in.”

Fellow WYSE team member Colton Brunner, also a junior, wanted to try something new and made both the math team and WYSE.

“I definitely enjoyed WYSE, probably better than math team because I enjoy chemistry and biology,” Colton said.

Potter has high praise for the four seniors on the WYSE team: Jessica, Nick, Cassidy, and also Michal Strzebonski.

“This is a pretty special group of seniors, these four,” he said. “This group just took it a new level and set a new bar.”

Math team in action Saturday

Speaking of the Bulldogs math team, they head to state competition at the University of Illinois on Saturday, with about 35-40 students from the high school set to participate. Some freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors all take part, Potter noted.