Teacher:

Jim Ciccarelli.

School:

Penncrest High School in Middletown, where he teaches physics and is head coach of the Science Olympiad team.

Achievement:

Fifteen Penncrest students will compete at the Science Olympiad National Tournament on May 30 and 31 at George Washington University in Washington.

Ciccarelli, 40, of West Chester, and fellow science teacher Ed Somers took over the Penncrest team seven years ago, and since 2004, Penncrest has qualified for the national tournament by placing second in the state. (Harriton High School in Lower Merion has captured the state title for the last 12 years.)

Sixty squads compete at the national tournament, in which students are tested on biology, earth science, chemistry, physics, technology and other fields.

Penncrest has placed as high as fifth and won the Spirit Award at previous national contests.

First time at nationals:

"It was magical," Ciccarelli said. ". . . That first trip to nationals was dynamite. One of the kids that graduated - she was a junior that year - has a picture of herself holding the Spirit Award trophy. And she carries it around with her."

Experts:

"Some of the events are consistent from year to year. So for example, there's an event that deals with epidemiology - that's communicable diseases. . . . The event is sponsored at the national level by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].

"And, you know, a kid will begin to study for this event in their ninth-grade year, and a kid will have it for three years. By the time they get out of here, they could work for the CDC without any more preparation. They're so familiar with the protocols and how these things are handled."

Benefits of competition:

"They push themselves. . . . It goes so far beyond what they get in the normal high school curriculum."

Just in case:

"These are highly, highly motivated students. They push me as a coach, because they come to me constantly. . . .

"One of the events is a circuit laboratory. And those kids are on me every day. 'Can you come up with some problems that deal with transistors?' I say, 'Yeah, but transistors aren't in the rule book. They're not covered in the rule book.' They say, 'We don't care. Just in case they show up, we want to be ready for them.' "

Recruitment:

"I had a kid ask recently, 'How do you get to be 'The Chosen Ones'? And I said, 'That's exactly it. You get chosen.'. . .

"There is a very comprehensive set of characteristics that I'm looking for. I don't teach ninth graders, but that's when I want to catch them," said Ciccarelli, who will observe ninth-grade classrooms on days of experiments.

"Traditional academic talent is easy to find, because I just have to look at the numbers. . . . But beyond that, you need a kid with a positive attitude, and a kid with a good work ethic and a kid that's a team player."

The interview:

"I have a speech. It's a performance. I give them the story, and I tell them, 'This is not a club. It's not a hobby or an idle sort of fancy of mine. Should you accept, you're committing for the long haul.'

"And I try to give them an idea what that commitment's going to mean. And I'm very serious. I sort of glare at them a little bit. I give it to them straight and say, 'This is not - this team is not - for the meek. It's not for the faint of heart.' "

Showcase:

"And then I take them out and I show them the trophy case. And I show them some pictures of teams with medals around their necks and all that sort of thing."

Reaction:

"What you're after is a kid who is humbled just to have been asked. So I'm looking for a reaction where the kid blushes and looks down at their feet. The really good ones end up standing straight. . . .

"One kid that is now at Penn, his response to the speech was, 'I'm not going to let you down.' And he looked like a Marine at attention."

Harriton:

"It's a very friendly rivalry. We've beaten them at the national level, and we've beaten them at the regional level. We just haven't caught them at states yet. We've been as close as three points behind."

What his principal says:

"They are so dedicated to having our students be prepared. It's amazing the amount of time and energy they put into the program," principal Rick Gregg said of Ciccarelli and the other coaches.

Ciccarelli is "just one of those guys that can motivate kids and inspire them to compete."

The team:

Seniors Jesse Ru, Lepi Jha, Terri Mercer, Emily Miller and Henry Wong; juniors Dan Consoli, Sam Moffat, Devika Patel, Marina Solomos, Corbin Muetterties, Taylor McManus, Matt Munin, Max Nachamkin and Matt Giardinelli; sophomores  Adeeb Minhaj, Lindsay Gaskins, Christine Sowa, Eda Chen, Richard Forbes, Kara Kenney and Austin Muetterties; and freshmen Rachel Hosier, Michelle Nolan, Joe Zack.

Other coaches are Ed Somers (biology and environmental science), Jim Shea (drafting), and Jennifer Tareila (chemistry and biology).

- Ed Mahon