AH Police Dept. adding K9 unit

Note: This was a story I wrote for the Feb. 9 issue of the Cheney Free Press. I was honored to meet Officer Ziegler and Austin.

While the Airway Heights Police Department is adding four officers to its ranks in 2017, it is also bringing on an additional member of the four-legged variety.

The department is adding another K-9 unit to its roster. In a January interview, Chief Lee Bennett explained the department has two patrol teams, with each one working four, 10-hour shifts. Officer Mike Ziegler and his canine partner, Austin, make up Airway Heights’ current K9 unit. Although Ziegler conducts regular patrols like any officer, he will sometimes have to come in on his days off and bring in Austin when they need him.

“The benefit is we’ll have a K-9 unit every single day and that will cut down on my calls from home,” Ziegler said.

To read the rest of the story, follow the link.

Westwood Middle School – Seaperch Nationals


Westwood Middle School students Collin Novo and Carter Lefler of Aqua Troopers finished 57th out of 92 middle schools that competed at the 2016 National SeaPerch Challenge at Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge Louisiana in May.

Lefler and Novo, the first two Westwood students to compete at a national SeaPerch competition, finished with a score of 170. In individual events, the Aqua Troopers scored 74 points on the challenge event, 64 on the obstacle course and 32 on the poster.

According to its website, SeaPerch is a program that equips teachers and students with resources to build an underwater remotely operated vehicle – ROV. Students build the ROV from a kit comprised of low-cost, easily accessible parts and follow a curriculum that teaches engineering and science concepts with a marine engineering theme.

Lefler and Novo qualified for the national competition after winning the sixth annual Inland Northwest SeaPerch Challenge at the Eastern Washington University pool, Feb. 27. The team’s registration fees were paid by the school district.

“It was a positive experience for them,” Westwood SeaPerch coach Karen Runyon said, referring to Novo’s and Lefler’s time at the national competition.

For the challenge event, Novo and Lefler scored points by having their ROV transport whiffle balls into a submerged or floating area. For the obstacle course, the team had to successfully maneuver their vehicle through a series of rings in different positions.

Prior to the national competition, Runyon said the team attached a removable net to the ROV to help them transport the balls for the challenge event. When they arrived at nationals, officials informed them they had to keep the net on their ROV for both events. This would have made it difficult for the vehicle to maneuver through the rings, which Runyon said were 18 inches in diameter – a change form last year’s competition.

“The students came up with the idea to collapse the net and shortened the PVC pipes,” Runyon said. “Our ROV worked great, nothing broke.”

Teams also had to present a poster where they documented the process of building their ROV and shared the problems and solutions they came across leading up to the competition.

Runyon said Novo and Lefler had the opportunity to meet teams from across the United States, Australian and New Zealand, as well as learn different designs and modifications they could make to their ROVs.

“Some of the teams that won the competition have more access to pools so they can practice,” Runyon said.

As for next year, Runyon said the SeaPerch club is trying to find different ways of letting high school students, who were previously involved with the club, to come back and help the new team members. The teams will also work on different strategies and purchase more components.

Runyon said she would also like to hold a practice competition between the Cheney Middle School and Westwood teams.

“Most of the kids who enter the competitions are driving the ROVs in the pool for the first time,” Runyon said. “That’s something I am going to look into next year.”

ML Knowledge Bowl season recap


The Medical Lake High School Knowledge Bowl team wrapped up its season after they competed in the National Academic Championship in Chicago, June 11-13.

Medical Lake went 1-5 in the preliminary rounds.

Ginny Luhn, one of the team’s coaches, said the students learned a lot and played well, considering they were competing under quiz bowl rules, which she said is different than the knowledge bowl rules they are used to.

“The analogy that I use is they were like a baseball team learning to play cricket in the middle of the game,” Luhn said. “But we didn’t shame ourselves, the kids did well.”

One example Luhn gave about the rule changes was the scoring. In knowledge bowl, questions are worth one point each. For quiz bowl, each question has different point values.

“A group could have 10 questions and they are worth five points each,” Luhn said. “Teams can jump ahead of you with one or two right answers.”

Another difference was in how teams answered questions. Under knowledge bowl rules, teams will answer questions together. In quiz bowl, only an individual team member may answer a question.

After the team was finished with the competition, Luhn said they visited the city’s sites including the Chicago Music Exchange, and the 33rd Annual Chicago Blues Festival.

“The students didn’t really visit the tourist spots, they wanted to see the city for itself,” Luhn said. “Chicago was a great experience for them.”

The National Academic Championship was a good way for the team to end the year.

The team started out with 25-30 members. After some students dropped, the team had 24 members and formed two varsity and three JV teams.

“Co-coach Tara Feider also brought some new ideas and some new techniques when it comes to playing,” Luhn added.

Prior to nationals, the team competed in several practice competitions before taking second in the NEWESD101 regionals and Washington State Knowledge Bowl in March. Luhn said the team was invited to other National Academic Championship competitions, one in Louisiana and another in Washington D.C.

“The reason we chose Chicago was because Louisiana was too soon (after state) and Washington D.C. was happening during graduation,” Luhn said.

Luhn was also grateful for the Medical Lake Booster Club, who helped raise money for the team’s expenses.

“It’s nice to see adults who are invested in the students and the kids will pay that forward,” Luhn said. “Small schools have the opportunity to do big things, but if they don’t have the support of the adults, they don’t get the chance to do them. Medical Lake is a special place like that.”

The team will lose a couple of seniors — Jeremy Ryan, who Luhn said specialized in science and math, and Alex Carl, who was the team’s “history guy.” She added that the team will have a strong core group returning next year, including Gabriel Mangione and Nick Isherwood, who Luhn described as a “great captain for the team.”

“I can see this group being powerful players next year,” Luhn said. “I can’t wait to play the big schools.”