John F. Russell: Science finds its place in the waters of Old Town Hot Springs |

John F. Russell: Science finds its place in the waters of Old Town Hot Springs

— The annual cardboard boat race at the Old Town Hot Springs is to cardboard what the America’s Cup is to sailing.

On Friday morning, physics students from Steamboat Springs and South Routt pushed the envelope of what we should expect from industrial strength cardboard and duct tape. Neither of the items were meant to hold up to the soaking they got in the Old Town Hot Springs pool on a warm October morning, but thanks to some clever science by the high school students the boats they created went further than you might expect.

Maybe that’s why the pool decks were filled with costumed students waiting for their turns in the water — fellow students there to provide encouragement and tons of parents who took a few minutes off work to see if the crafts their children have been piecing together in garages and basements around the county had what it took to be a champion.

But this race wasn’t just about winning.

The students were there to see if they had the intelligence to build a craft that could navigate the normally not-so-threatening waters of the pool. Not threatening to them, but maybe intimidating for cardboard.

Science teacher Mark Schenk said what the spectators witnessed in the pool will be backed up in the classroom — the real prize will not be the trophy that goes to the winner (I’m pretty sure that there is no trophy for winning team in this event), but the grades that will go into the books.

The top boats had to win their heat and were rewarded with another run a few minutes later in the finals.

This year, Team Rame topped the U.S.S. Freedom in a race to the other side of the pool. And in one of the first times ever, the boat also won the award for creativity.

Most of the other boats perished in the unforgiving pool after succumbing to the soaking water and the stresses put on by students pushing, maybe just a little to hard, to get to the other side.

The races are organized by several teachers at the Steamboat Springs High School, including Eric Nilsson, Schenk and Kirsten Brendtro. Dean Massey also brought a crew or two from South Routt to take part in the event. Old Town Hot Springs aquatics director Sam Hoff also lends a hand.

The race is one of two held at the pool each year. The high school students get their shot in the fall, and when the spring rolls around, fifth graders are invited to challenge the spring-warmed waters of the lap pool.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” Huff said. “The students all help clean up after the race is done, and that’s really nice.”

The goal of these races is to inspire the students to explore the world of science. Who knows? Maybe someday, one of these students will design the next space shuttle or a car that can go 100-plus miles on a gallon of gas or maybe a car that will not need any gas at all.

Maybe someday, they will step up to a podium and speak to a crowded college lecture hall about how it all started in a lap pool that was really meant for swimming.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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