Penguins Snowed in at the Pittsburgh Zoo
The eighth annual Penguin Bowl lived up to its name as Antarctic conditions hit the Three Rivers region and dumped over 53 centimeters of snow on the Pittsburgh Zoo.
(By Dr. Ray Beiersdorfer) — Out of the 20 teams planning to attend the event, 12 managed to make it to the zoo on Friday evening for the behind-the-scenes tour of the PPG Aquarium. After great tours of the isolation tanks and the top of the shark tank about ninety people marched outside and formed a large circle while standing in approximately 15 centimeters of snow. We were treated to a visit by three king penguins and one macaroni penguin. The king penguins each waddled around the perimeter checking us out as we petted them and took their photos. It was thrilling to be standing in the semi-darkness being pelted with snow and petting a penguin. Afterwards nine-teams found a place to sleep near the polar bears at the Zoo’s Water’s Edge Exhibit.
The next morning was an adventure for both the teams that stayed at the zoo as well as the three teams at the Holiday Inn (3.2 miles from the zoo.) The original plan was to feed everyone at the education building where the Penguin Bowl is held. The almost two feet of snow prevented the caterers from transporting the food so the overnighters trudged up the hill to eat near the African Elephant enclosure. The Lower Dauphin coach decided he was not going to attempt driving from the electrical-powerless and snowed-in hotel and worked on plans to get home. The Centerville teams had a school bus that took them over an hour to dig out of the hotel parking lot. They piled in and spent an additional two hours trying to climb the on-ramp to Highway 28.
Eventually with the help of local police, three snow plows and a newspaper truck, that donated newspapers to put under the bus tires, they made it.
My family and I, followed by Uber-Moderator Dr. Tom Diggins found an alternative route to the zoo that entailed going off-road to skirt a downed tree. After watching our vehicle plow its way into the Education Building parking lot, Tom opted to drive to the safer main zoo parking lot which ultimately became very important. While trudging by himself uphill from the packing lot Tom heard the cries of help from a woman in distress. The Centerville bus driver had slipped into a snow bank and was unable to get up! As the zoo was closed it’s difficult to say when another rescuer would have passed her way. Tom’s rescue was the most dramatic example of the “spirit of cooperation” that permeated the event.
Due to the inability of many of the zoo staff to travel through the blizzard we lost many of the scheduled volunteers and almost all the zoo keepers that made it now had to take care of the animals. Out of the 65 people scheduled and trained only 15 were able to help out. A reduction from 8 to 6 competition rooms, doubling up on duties and quickly training available zoo staff, coaches and parents how to be runners, scorekeepers and timekeepers allowed use to manage. Rules judges kept score or time as well. Moderators served as their own science judges. To my pleasant surprise, despite all these set-backs, this Penguin Bowl marked the lowest number of challenges appealed to Ocean Bowl Central in our 8-year history.
The “Let’s-solve-the-problem” attitude was contagious. Lunch was served to hungry competitors and volunteers at 3:30 p.m. because a broken snow plow delayed the zoo’s food service access to our building. Volunteers spent time between rounds digging out buried cars. At one time Dr. Carl Johnston pulled triple duty as Moderator, Science Judge and Rules Judge – joined by a scorekeeper and timekeeper who were the parents of a student from Kentucky. Another parent, Dr. Eric Paul, M.D. pulled yeomen duty by: 1) driving the Lake HS team to the zoo after the school principal cancelled their official school transportation due to the storm; 2) sleeping in the zoo where he was awoken at 3 a.m. to help a student suffering a gall-bladder attack which included calling an ambulance and consulting with the girl’s parents; and 3) helping in Ocean Bowl Central to grade the Team Challenge Questions for the first six rounds. In addition, he treated the entire Lake HS team to dinner at Pittsburgh’s historic strip district to celebrate their second-place finish. All this was from a man who didn’t even know he was going to the Penguin Bowl until Friday afternoon.
After an exciting semi-final upset that came down to the last second, Centerville HS A defeated Lake HS in the Finals to earn the right to represent The Penguin Bowl in the 2010 NOSB Nationals in Florida. Trophies, Oceanography Textbooks, iPods and a rainbow of tie-dyed T-shirts were awarded. Five teams of students and coaches then climbed aboard the Centerville bus to seek shelter at a nearby hotel. The other six teams meandered their way to a now cleared Pennsylvania Turnpike for the cautious journey home. After getting dug out of the zoo’s parking lot, Science Judge and Moderator, Dr. Felicia Armstrong arrived home at 10 pm and spent yet another hour digging her way into her garage.
The 2010 Penguin Bowl will definitely be one that will be remembered for a long time to come. Carl’s predicting an early-season hurricane for the nationals but let’s hope he’s wrong!
Dr. Ray Beiersdorfer
Regional Coordinator NOSB Penguin Bowl