Maren Cooper and Reed Robinson work on a rubber band-propelled airplane for the Maine Science Olympiad competition. The pair are defending champions the “Wright Stuff” event. Contributed / Wendy Curtis

Waynflete regularly competes for state titles in sports like soccer, skiing and tennis. But to find the Flyers’ most dominant team, you’ll have to head to the science lab.

On April 9, two squads of 15 Waynflete students will travel to Orono to compete in the Maine State Science Olympiad. The Flyers, who will face a gauntlet of 23 tests and engineering challenges, will look to extend their school’s sterling record, which includes seven wins in the last eight state competitions.

“I think it’s really helped me figure out my love for science,” said Maren Cooper of Portland, a junior.

Waynflete student Nathan Bukowski-Thall prepares for the “Trajectory” event, which requires students to launch a projectile a specified distance. Contributed / Wendy Curtis

Waynflete’s sciences are strong, according to co-coach Wendy Curtis, but the school hasn’t always been the dominant force in Maine Science Olympiad. Yet after decades heading the Flyers program, Curtis and fellow coach Carol Titterton have learned a few tricks that have helped their students overcome tough challenges from schools like Falmouth and Waterville.

“The things that we figure out one year give us an edge the next year, too,” Curtis said. “So now we know how to make a vehicle stop where we want it to, and we know how to build an airplane that can stay in the air. All that knowledge just has accumulated over time.”

For the third year in a row, Senior Henry Wagg of Portland will compete in Gravity Vehicle, which requires teams to build a car that will roll down a ramp, travel between five and six meters, and then stop within two centimeters of a target.


“That’s the kind of precision we like to shoot for on the team,” said Wagg, the defending champion on the event. “The margin for error is incredibly small.”

Some team members, like Wagg, have always liked working with their hands. Yet others, like senior Blythe Thompson, were surprised to discover they possessed a knack for science.

Thompson, a Cumberland native, thought her place was in the humanities when she arrived at Waynflete as a first year student. Now, she’s competing in events like Astronomy, Disease Detectives, and Bridge, which entails building a strong, yet lightweight bridge out of balsa or basswood.

While other schools’ teams have dedicated meeting times, the Waynflete coaches trust that students will complete their tasks on their own time, whether during the school day, after classes or on weekends.

“I think a lot of agency is given to students,” said Thompson, who plans on studying “something science-y” at Bowdoin College next year. “Part of what keeps the team so special is our willingness to show up and get it done.”

That attitude, even more than the team’s experience, is responsible for its success, according to Curtis.

“These kids just go above and beyond,” she said. “They’re all overachievers. They love to investigate and explore. The idea of scientific inquiry is alive and well here at Waynflete.”

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