Physics Club History

  • The Ballston Spa High School Physics Club was formed in June of 1985 as a result of a typographical error in the Saratogian newspaper.  A reporter from the paper interviewed several seniors just prior to the end of the school year.  When asked what he would miss most about high school, Brett Pokines responded “all my buddies in physics class.”  In the printed article,  “physics class” became “physics club.”   Comments were heard around school such as “I didn’t even know we had a Physics Club!”  Seizing the opportunity, I submitted a PA announcement announcing that “Brett Pokines, President of the Physics Club, would like to announce that the Physics Club would meet Thursday after school”.  I then overheard students whispering about showing up for the meeting, so I brought apple juice and cups.  Brett and his friends got their parents to bake goodies for the meeting and thus, on that Thursday in June, about 12 students and two teachers (Mrs. Hennig, a math teacher, and I) met for the first of what has become an annual meeting.  Unfortunately, we do not have a list of the members of the first group.  One noteworthy moment occurred when a sophomore over-achiever quit in disgust when she realized we were not actually going to do anything except to eat goodies.  Thus a tradition was formed, one meeting with goodies provided by the students and a drink provided by the teacher. 

    Sensing that it would make a nice annual event, I decided to schedule a meeting for the 1985-86 school year.  The 1985-86 meeting was scheduled for the week in which yearbook pictures would be taken of clubs and activities in hopes of getting the club photo into the yearbook.  I also decided that each member would be named a Vice-President of something or other.  The idea for the vice-presidencies came from two general strands.  I heard that a neighbor of mine was the Vice President of a bank.  When I expressed surprise at the lofty title, the friend said “that’s just a title they give them instead of higher salary.”  Secondly, an advertisement appeared in the local newspaper for an investment firm and it listed a president and 8 vice-presidents.  Since the club really doesn’t do anything, we really didn’t need any other officers.  The second meeting was announced around the time of the Honor Society Induction, so when a student asked if we had an induction ceremony, the immediate response was “Of course, we’ll have an electro-magnetic induction ceremony, and we won’t be nearly as picky as the Honor Society.”  Students are now required to “induce” a current in a coil using a magnet as verified by a galvanometer, which is not all that difficult because all that is required is to move the magnet near the coil.  Mr. Porter who co-advised from 1988 to 2000 added a twist (or switch) to the induction process that has provided some frustration for students and added a lot of fun to the induction process. 

    For the first few years, I would select a person to be president (usually someone just barely passing the course) and have the announcement made in the name of the president (that’s how the person found out he/she was president).  A couple of times, I named the president after the meeting based on who, if anyone, stayed to help clean up.  In subsequent years, we dropped the title of President because it became a political hassle with students.  The attendance numbers have varied based on the enthusiasm of the students and the energy level of the teachers.  On some occasions we did as little promotion as possible, to the point of trying to keep the date a secret, thinking the fewer students showed the less work for us.  Ultimately, we set the date as the Thursday of the last full week of school prior to the Christmas/Holiday Vacation. We no longer needed to try to get ourselves into the yearbook, although we have found it advantageous to provide a “media package” with text and photos to the yearbook staff   We steadfastly stuck with our tradition of only one meeting a year.     

    Another aspect of the Physics Club meeting has been the Physics Holiday Tie Essay contest.   The Physics Holiday Tie was conceptualized by me, sewn by Mrs. Reed and hand wired (including LEDs, 3 chips and various resistors and capacitors) by Chuck Neugebauer in December of 1983 (appendix 1).  The plan was to wear the tie on the last day before vacation, and wouldn’t you know it, we had a snow day (one of the few times I was disappointed to have a snow day).  To make amends, I wore the tie the first day back after vacation although most of the students and staff were no longer in a festive mood.   I wore the tie on the last day before each Christmas/Holiday vacation each year for 10 years until I couldn’t stand the pressure any more.  I then decided to turn the responsibility over to a physics student.  In order to win the honor or wearing the tie, students must write an essay of 25 words or less on the official form on why he/she should be selected to wear the tie.  Competition to wear the tie has always been spirited.  We have a poster of all the winners of the contest starting with Joe Armer in 1994.   In addition, we now request a donation of $1.00 per member to the Yearbook Holiday Fund and as required of all extra-curriculars, students need to sign an oath to abide by the Extra-Curricular Code of Conduct.  A few solder joints were repaired on the circuit board for the tie in November of 2011 by Tyler Russell, thus restoring the tie to its former flashing self.

    We managed to get the club listed as a “legitimate” club in the school paper work.  That entitled us to a CSL Representative for a period of time. Maureen McGrath was our first CSL Rep. One interesting offshoot of that strand was that the Board of Education decided in November of 1991 that it should re-appoint all the club advisors that year. Subsequently, the Superintendent asked the High School Principal, Mr. Palma, for a list of all the clubs.  Mr. Palma, knowing full well of nature of the club, submitted the standard list of clubs and advisors to the Superintendent.  When the Superintendent tried to match up the clubs with the contractual stipends for the Board appointment agenda, Physics Club was not listed so he used the lowest stipend ($300) and divided it equally between the two advisors, Mr. Porter and I.  It might have been fun to let the resolution go to the Board of Education, but knowing that two of the Board members had children who were members of recent Physics Clubs, I got nervous and had the stipends eliminated from the agenda prior to the Board of Education meeting. 

    Prior to the Board agenda incident, I had been thinking about what the stipend for a Physics Club advisor should be.  I consulted with the yearbook advisor and she said that she spent 600 hours on the yearbook and received a stipend of $1,200, thus $2.00 per hour.  Based on that data, I wrote a proposal to the principal, Mr. Perreault, suggesting that a stipend of $4 be approved for the Physics Club advisor. The rationale was that the yearbook person got $2.00 per hour, but that Physics Club involved twice as many students, therefore the advisor should get $4.00 for the one hour.  After you got past all the accusations and castigations contained in Mr. Perrault’s response, he offered a $2.00 stipend.  I responded that “$2.00 would be an insult” and the process ground to a halt.  To this day, the advisors are not paid. 

    In 1986-87 we decided to have a silk-screened Physics T-Shirt.  Prior to that I had given out physics t-shirts as awards.  The award shirts were plain blue shirts with no printing but proclaimed to be “the Physics T-Shirt, the shirt you can be proud to wear anywhere.”  Our first club shirt was done with a hand cut silkscreen, printed in house by students on whatever shirt the student brought in.  One over- zealous student brought in 11 shirts, including some of his undershirts to be printed. In subsequent years, we have gone to outside silk screen companies.   One year we underestimated sales and made an unanticipated profit in excess of $100.  We voted at the following Physics Club to purchase a plasma ball.  The plasma ball was such a success that someone stole it.  Since we began selling Physics T-Shirts, we’ve needed to have a treasurer, so in the fall of the year, the advisor(s) select a senior who had been inducted the previous year to be named as the treasurer.  The treasurer handles the deposits and check writing for the T-Shirt sale.

    Students have listed Physics Club on their lists of activities for awards, recognitions and on college applications.   We encourage this and make no apology for it.  Students often join other clubs “because it will look good on the application” and then do not take an active part in the organization.   Any awards  or college admissions committee  that merely counts up activities  is not getting an accurate picture of the student to begin with.  In the few times we’ve been contacted for a reference, we are happy to explain the philosophy, policies and procedures of the Physics Club. 

    The 1987-88 meeting included the special inductions of:  Mr. Williams, physics videographer, Chuck Neugebauer, Ph.D. (BSHS ’84, Cal Tech B.S.’88, Ph.D.”92) co-founder of Arithmos computer chip design company.  Chuck just happened to visit school on the day of the meeting.  He was the last to be inducted and he selected the title “Vice-President of Wave Particle Duality.”  Chuck commented “I can’t believe no one wanted this title”. Two mice from Mr. Williams Special Topics Class , Algenon and Mighty, were inducted as well.  This meeting was also covered for the Times Union newspaper by reporter Jill Murman (appendix 2).  In the 1990-91 meeting, Ed Apholz brought his infant son to the meeting and we had our first Physics Club diaper change.  Ed and his wife, who now have 4 children, made a recent visit to BSHS to relive the moment (appendix 3).

    Two other clubs were founded at other schools by physics teachers who graduated from BSHS.  Dan McGrath advised a club at Chatham High School for the two years that he taught there and Chris Hahn currently has a club at Linganore high school in Frederick Maryland.  Mr. Hahn's Physics Club will be staging the first annual Physics Club Christmas Pageant on December 19, 2001.  Mr. Hahn has a creative list of titles and prints out business cards for each vice-president  (appendix 4).  It sounds as if Mr. Hahn is stretching the one meeting per year rule, but its difficult to curb the enthusiasm of the younger teachers.

    The Annual Physics Club meeting remains an important event on the calendar at Ballston Spa High School. Advisors have no fear of conflicts with any other activities, it’s the other advisors who need to worry.  Mr. Poirier hosted his first meeting in 2000-01 and immediately recognized the impact of this event.  The 2001-2002  meeting (the eighteenth) was hosted by Mr. Poirier and Mrs. Rousseau.  I (Dick Reed) have been in attendance every year since to make sure that all of the clubs basic principles remain intact. 


    Mr. Reed (1985-2001)            

    Mrs. Hennig (1985-86)

    Mr. Porter (1988-2000)

    Mr. Poirier (2000 - present)

    Mrs. Rousseau (2001- present)