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Posted on Sun. Feb. 17, 2013 - 12:01 am EDT

Mathletes find competition worth the work

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FORT WAYNE — There’s no crying in baseball, and there are no friendships in math competitions.

At least that’s what moderator Dan Coroian cautioned contestants in Saturday’s annual MathCounts contest for middle-schoolers at IPFW.

As it turns out, he might have miscalculated.

During the contest’s final lightning-round faceoff, two teammates from Southwest Allen County Schools’ Woodside Middle School went head to head for the top prize.

And when seventh-grader George Sun, 13, beat eighth-grader Ellis Yoder, 14, to the buzzer on a tricky question about co-linear tangent circles and fractions of area, they both walked away happy.

“He (Sun) kept coming at me about doing this until I finally came to do it, and I’m glad I did,” Yoder said after the contest.

He added that the two practiced against each other at school all the time and even competed against each other online.

“We’re still friends,” Yoder said. “If I have to lose to someone, I’m glad it’s like my best friend.”

Yoder and Sun were among about 70 student “mathletes” who competed from six area schools to earn the right to compete in a statewide competition next month.

The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders started by working with and without calculators on pencil-and-paper tests individually and as teams.

Then the top eight individual scorers were paired up and given 45 seconds to solve problems that appeared on a screen in front of them.

In each pair, the student who got two out of three right answers advanced to the next round until only Sun and Yoder were left.

Contest rules ban media from sharing specifics of the questions because of upcoming competitions.

But the problems included standard supermarket and restaurant math, algebraic equations and tricky geometric calculations.

Dianne Witwer of Bluffton, a math major in college, was as nervous as a pageant mom when her son Sam, 12, representing Fort Wayne’s Canterbury Middle School, made it to the lightning round.

“Oh, gosh,” she said when his name was announced. “This is going to be stressful.”

Sam actually had the right answer in the round’s tiebreaker question, but it was ruled not acceptable because he hadn’t reduced it to a common fraction, as required by the question.

But his mom took it well. “Not bad,” she said. “Good practice for next year. He’s only in sixth grade.”

The top four individuals – Sun, Yoder, Jonathan Zhou from Canterbury and Kevin LaMaster from St. Jude Catholic School in Fort Wayne – will compete March 9 at Purdue University in West Lafayette.

So will the top two teams, Woodside, which placed first, and one of two teams from Canterbury.

Other top scorers for individual teams were Jonah Lechlitner, Warsaw Community Schools’ Edgewood Middle School; Nicole Gloudemans, St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School in Fort Wayne; and Braden Kattman, Southwest Allen County Schools’ Summit Middle School.

Adam Coffman, a math professor at IPFW and contest organizer, said the event uses only middle-school math. “But the problems are still difficult enough that they require practice in problem-solving skill,” he said.

He said the goal is to “develop a culture in schools where being a good student is rewarded, and like athletes, the whole school can get behind them.”

Sun and Yoder’s teammates, Kolin Davis and Chris Howard, were definitely behind them.

“They practice against each other all the time,” Davis said after the competition. “But when they faced off against each other, it was like the greatest showdown we’ve ever seen.”

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