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Fountain Green student wins $10,000 for Bel Air school in BGE’s Captain Mercaptan natural gas safety contest

Proud parents Joan Motsay, back left, Jeffrey Brown, back, and brother Joshua Brown, front left, join Fountain Green Elementary School fourth grader Ryleigh Brown, and Captain Mercaptan after Ryleigh was announced as this year's BGE Captain Mercaptan Natural Gas Safety Contest. Her comic strip featuring Captain Mercaptan and his friends was chosen as this year's winner. Part of the prize was $10,000 for the school.
Proud parents Joan Motsay, back left, Jeffrey Brown, back, and brother Joshua Brown, front left, join Fountain Green Elementary School fourth grader Ryleigh Brown, and Captain Mercaptan after Ryleigh was announced as this year's BGE Captain Mercaptan Natural Gas Safety Contest. Her comic strip featuring Captain Mercaptan and his friends was chosen as this year's winner. Part of the prize was $10,000 for the school. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

Fountain Green Elementary School fourth-grader Ryleigh Brown’s comic strip was chosen as the $10,000 grand prize winner of this year’s “The Adventures of Captain Mercaptan, BGE Natural Gas Safety Hero Challenge.”

It is the second time in three years a Fountain Green student submitted the winning comic strip in the contest. Averi McCotter submitted the winning entry in the 2018 contest.

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Representatives from BGE, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman and others were on hand Thursday to present Ryleigh and the Bel Air school with a $10,000 check for her winning entry. Her comic strip will be featured in a BGE natural gas safety advertisement in February.

“It makes me feel good because I got $10,000 for the school, and I really like that my comic strip won," Ryleigh said.

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Her teacher, Kris Boyle, said students did a lot of research, reading a number of articles about natural gas safety provided by BGE, before working that newfound knowledge into the cartoons.

“I’m so proud of Ryleigh and all the kids that participated,” said Boyle, a science teacher at Fountain Green. “We were so impressed by their entries, we thought they were all wonderful entries that gave great messages.”

The annual contest challenges public and private elementary schools in BGE’s service area to illustrate gas safety messages featuring Captain Mercaptan, BGE’s fictional natural gas safety superhero.

Captain Mercaptan teaches kids how to recognize a natural gas leak, and the steps they need to take when they smell gas. His name is derived from “mercaptan,” a safety additive put in natural gas to give it a distinctive rotten egg odor that makes gas easier to detect.

Christopher Burton, vice president of gas distribution and operations for BGE, said it’s great that Fountain Green and other participating schools are using the contest as an opportunity to teach students about natural gas safety and that, when something occurs, to call BGE.

"It's a great partnership, it's an opportunity for them to drive that message home but then for us to award money for their further education in general," Burton said.

The $10,000 will go toward a school enrichment project. In addition, a teacher from the grand prize-winning school receives a $500 gift card and teachers from the other winning schools receive $100 gift cards.

BGE initiated the contest in 2014, and has since awarded $245,000 to area schools, according to a news release from the utility. It is awarded $35,000 to winning schools this year.

This year, 19 area schools submitted 51 safety comic strips. The public voted and a panel of judges, including celebrity judge, WBAL-TV meteorologist Ava Marie, chose the winners. More than 60,000 votes were cast online at bgegashero.com.

“That comic strip will live forever online and we can actually continue to share that with the next generation of students,” Burton said. “They’ll take that safety message for a lifetime. I remember as a kid seeing these safety messages and my kids remember Captain Mercaptan and today they know about mercaptan because they take that with them forever.”

In addition to the first-place prize, a top entry was chosen for each grade level in kindergarten through fifth grade. Other schools that won a $5,000 BGE Hero Aware are:

  • Kindergarten: St. Michael-St. Clement School in Baltimore.
  • First grade: Mount Washington School in Baltimore.
  • Second grade: North Bend Elementary School in Jarrettsville.
  • Third grade: Perry Hall Christian School in Perry Hall.
  • Fifth grade: Immaculate Conception School in Towson.

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