Pioneer heading to nationals after winning the Michigan High School Ethics Bowl State Championship

By Terry Jacoby/

Sometimes, the best win is the one you don’t expect.

“I never would’ve expected us to win,” says Elizabeth Engel. “The moment they announced the winner it felt exhilarating because we were so surprised to have won.”
Engel and her Pioneer High School Ethics Bowl Team won the Michigan High School Ethics Bowl State Championship on Feb. 2-3 at the University of Michigan. And while it was unexpected, it was well deserved for a group of students who worked very hard in preparation for the state finals.

So, take a bow Pioneer! But don’t take too long—there is still work to be done.

“I felt this rush of happiness the whole evening that bled into the next day,” Engel said. “It was this amazing mixture of shock, gratitude, and excitement that I felt so lucky to share with my team.”

Fellow Pioneer senior Dennis Ricoy also couldn’t believe when he heard the Pioneer team called out as champions.

“Nobody on our team expected to make it as far as we did,” he said. “After all, we were the B team (Pioneer has two Ethics Bowl teams, an A and B team) so to hear our team announced as the winner made my heart skip a beat. It was a feeling of pride and of accomplishment. As the B team, we walked into the competition expecting defeat, but we left with the trophy. It was truly amazing.”

Annika Hockman, another senior on the team, went as far as to call it “shocking.”

“I don’t think any of us were expecting it; all of us excepted to hear the first word be “green” instead of “purple” (since it was Greenhills Green vs Purple Pioneering Philosophers) when they announced who won the final round,” she said. “My jaw literally dropped and I wasn’t quite caught up with reality for a few seconds. Being on team B, we were not expected to win. We were all just happy to have been able to have made it to the second day since our team is made up of five first years (in ethics bowl) and two preexisting members. I’m very proud of everyone on my team and am looking forward to the new challenges going to nationals will give us.”

Nationals? Yes, there is a Nationals.

Pioneer Ethics Bowl team: (L-R) Brent Richards, Lia Bergin, Elizabeth Engel, Seraphina Botero, Dennis Ricoy, Annika Hockman, Mirian Nweze, Gabriel Nwogu, Alice Kelley and Chris Nicholson.

With their Ethics Bowl win, the Pioneer B team advances to a spot in the National High School Ethics Bowl held at UNC-Chapel Hill during the weekend of April 5-7.

Throughout the state tournament, the Pioneer philosophers won each of their seven matches and defeated Greenhills in the finals. “They put in incredible work between October and now to earn their title,” said team advisor and Pioneer teacher Brent Richards.

The Pioneer team included seniors Seraphina Botero, Elizabeth Engel, Annika Hockman, Gabriel Nwogu and Dennis Ricoy along with juniors Mirian Nweze and Lia Bergin.

Engel says she really enjoys ethical philosophy and discussion because of her interest in morality and what defines it.

“I took a philosophy course and the club was introduced and I found it incredibly intriguing,” she says. “I love the collaborative elements of it that balance out the competitive aspects of it. I like looking at ethical dilemmas through different lenses of ethical theories in order to view problems from varying perspectives in a way that’s almost systematic, while also being eye-opening. I like working with my team, and presenting our case to watch all of our work come together.”

This was the first year on the team for several members including Nweze who said she was glad she finally joined the group. “I loved the philosophical debates we’d have in philosophy class and I decided I really wanted to do ethics after hearing it was similar,” she said.

“My favorite thing about Ethics Bowl is engaging in discussion about the cases and ethical theories with my teammates. Sometimes I get a new perspective that changes the way I think about everything. I’m able to challenge my beliefs and thoughts while also providing a different viewpoint.”

Ricoy simply followed in his brother’s footsteps.

“What got me interested in Ethics Bowl was my older brother participated my freshman year and got me to join my sophomore year,” he said. “After that I was hooked.

“I am someone who loves structure in life. Many of these cases are extremely complex and elaborate with many nuances and emotions tied in. Ethics Bowl allows me to delve deep into these problems and dissect each situation with precision and produce an answer; the ability to take something so incredibly complicated and take it apart to form a structured understanding of the situation.”

Hockman said she enjoys learning how other people think.

“It fascinates me how though we are all human and for the most part all live in a society, that humans hold many different ideals as to what is the correct way to do things,” she said. “Learning about the philosophers and ethical theories is entertaining, but applying them to the cases is when things really get fun for me. Each case brings something new to the table to consider.”

She says sitting with her team and viewing the situation from all sides and with the different ethical theories really forces her and her teammates to broaden their mindset and step away from their own viewpoint of life.

“The research is another thing I enjoy,” she says. “I have learned so much from trying to find evidence and other examples of cases; from Facebook’s problem in Myanmar to the legality of a DNR tattoo. I also, of course, love all the members on my team. We have grown so close and I am so happy that I have gotten to know them and get to spend two more months with them in preparation for nationals. My favorite moments are when we are taking a break during a meeting when we try to apply ethical theories to help each other through a problem.”

Engel couldn’t agree more.

“I love the collaborative elements of it that balance out the competitive aspects of it,” she said. “I like looking at ethical dilemmas through different lenses of ethical theories in order to view problems from varying perspectives in a way that’s almost systematic, while also being eye-opening. I love returning to a question from a new angle with additional thoughts and ideas, and letting our research enhance our stance. I like working with my team, and presenting our case to watch all of our work come together.”

The National High School Ethics Bowl (NHSEB) promotes respectful, supportive, and rigorous discussion of ethics among thousands of high school students nationwide.

Each Fall, the NHSEB releases a set of cases covering a broad range of issues, which then serve as the focus for the year.  Teams meet together regularly, with a coach, to research the cases, to discuss the issues they raise, and, to identify clearly how they think those issues should be addressed.  Wrapped around this work is a model for the competitions that rewards students for the depth of their thought, their ability to think carefully and analytically about complex issues, and the respect they show to the diverse perspectives of their peers. As a result, the NHSEB cultivates the virtues central to democratic citizenship and prepares students to navigate challenging moral issues in a systematic and open-minded way.

In an Ethics Bowl round, teams are evaluated by a panel of three neutral judges. The judges will score each team using a score sheet and a pre-set criteria. There are five main scoring areas for a total of 60 points: Presentation (15 points); Commentary (10 points); Response (10 points); Response to Judges’ Questions (20 points); and Respectful Dialogue (5 points)

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