Jr. mathematicians multiply their success

Be nice to these kids. Someday, when the robot armies invade, they’ll be the ones who know which wires to cut.

More immediately, they’ll be the ones designing bridges over which we hope to safely pass. They’ll be the ones who can make sense of the binary tangle of 1s and 0s that our lives have become. They’ll be the ones who expand the frontiers of renewable energy, who design the equipment that saves lives, who always know what to tip.

Be nice to these kids. They’re good at math.

Saturday, students from 17 middle schools across the Western Slope gathered at Holy Family Middle School in Grand Junction for the 28th annual MATHCOUNTS competition. They went three rounds, individually and as a team, with problems that tested their knowledge of algebra, probability, statistics and geometry.

For the second consecutive year, the East Middle School MATHCOUNTS team placed first, with four team members — Bryce Atchison, Tiana Menon, Noah Graf and John Moir — placing in the top 10 individually.

“This is important recognition for kids who are good at math,” said Mike Curtis, Western Slope MATHCOUNTS coordinator, adding that math prowess doesn’t always get the attention other activities receive.

“Math is fun,” said Fernando Sarmiento, 13, an eighth-grader at Lake County Middle School.

“I like the numbers,” added his teammate, Nicolas Mejia, 14, an eighth-grader.

These are students who look at a cloud of numbers and see patterns, who clearly visualize trains leaving different stations at different speeds, who spin around the Y-axis then swing from the X, thoroughly enjoying the ride.

These are students you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley with a calculator.

Take Michael Perea, for example. A seventh-grader at Riverside Middle School in New Castle and a Titan of math, he placed in the individual top 10 Saturday and dominated the final one-on-one competition among the top 10 contestants. He was doing word problems in his head.

The room was filled with students of that level of mathematical acumen. Most schools began with a qualifying test weeks or months ago, from which top scorers were culled to form a MATHCOUNTS team. Then came daily practice before or after school.

“We’ve been practicing every day before school for about 45 minutes,” said Xavier Gowins, 13, an eighth-grader at Leadville Middle School.

“The tests here today are easier than the ones we’ve been doing in practice,” added Gray Finnell, 11, a sixth-grader at Leadville Middle School.

The top three teams from Saturday’s competition, plus the top nine individual winners not already on one of the top three teams, will advance to the state MATHCOUNTS competition March 12 in Denver. State winners will compete nationally in Washington, D.C., May 5 through 8.

All of which means more practice, more diving into graphs and plotting numbers, more hard work, more fun with ideas and mathematical possibilities.

These students are learning young that athletes and actors may get all the attention, but it’s mathematicians who save the day.


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