In the first Washington State High School Ethics Bowl, 100 students spent their Saturday discussing topics from the legalization of marijuana to forgiving political sex scandals to supporting research on genetically engineered meat.

Going over strategies with his teammates from Seattle’s Lakeside School, Thomas Thongmee, 18, said they were ready and excited for whatever questions the judges asked during the all-day event at the University of Washington’s Savery Hall.

“In the age of the Internet, we are really exposed to the media, current events and political scandal,” Thongmee said. “I think high-schoolers these days just care more about ethical issues and want to talk about them.”

With Saturday’s event, Washington joins a growing list of states holding high-school ethics bowls. Last year, the first National High School Ethics Bowl was organized by the Parr Center for Ethics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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The bowls encourage high-school students to think about ethical issues, promote critical thinking and show young people there are many ways to see the world, said Jana Mohr Lone, event organizer and director of University of Washington’s Center for Philosophy for Children.

She said she wants young people to be able to say, “Well, that is your view, but I have a different one.”

“Not just say, ‘Well, you’re an idiot,’ ” she said.

Ethics bowls are competitions in which students have a dialogue about and analyze a series of wide-ranging ethical dilemmas. It is not to be confused with debate team, which many high schools offer, Lone said.

“People’s first assumption is always to say, ‘Oh it is like a debate,’ ” Lone said. “But we are not assigning sides of the issue. The teams’ views and perspectives may be very similar, but they are judged on their ability to offer articulate, well-informed and reasonable arguments.”

For Hannah Kortbawi, also of the Lakeside team, the Ethics Bowl was an opportunity to think critically and discuss topics that came up in her bioethics class last semester. When her teacher told her she should join the club and compete, she didn’t hesitate.

“Ethics are so hard to talk about, but that is what makes it so fun,” Kortbawi, 18, said. “It makes me feel like a better person for thinking about it.”

After taking on five other teams throughout the day, Seattle Academy won Saturday’s bowl, and the team of five will be going to North Carolina — all expenses paid — in April. The team members are: Harrison Grad, Alec Guthrie, Alexander Karbo, Hannah Lewis and Decker O’Donnell.

“It was so nice to see the kids compete without the aggression and antics you get in so many competitions,” said Steven Schroeppel, coach for the Seattle Academy team. “And it is just so important for high-schoolers to think about real-life examples of real- life ethical issues before they turn into adults and make big mistakes.”

Lakeside School, which had two teams at the bowl, won the Spirit of Ethics award.

Next year, Lone hopes to spread the Ethics Bowl around the state, allowing more students to participate.

“Our goal is to keep expanding it,” she said. “Eventually, we will have smaller countywide bowls where the winners from each of those will attend the state bowl here and then the winning team from that will go on to nationals … but that may take a few years.”

Coral Garnick: 206-464-2422 or cgarnick@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @coralgarnick