The long moments of silence inside the the gymnasium at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School in Bradenton Friday afternoon were punctuated with high-pitch screams. A passerby wouldn’t have known the gym held more than 100 middle school students until the eruption of noise every few minutes.
Inside, 17 teams of four students each were seated at tables, scribbling furiously on slips of paper, hoping to answer a word problem correctly. The silence was required for concentration. The cheering came for correct responses.
It was the annual MathCounts competition, a math competition for middle school students. This is the second year Saint Stephen’s has hosted the event, which is one of more than 500 taking place nationally.
Students were in the midst of a team round that came with an unusually tough batch of questions. Moderator Bob Lombardo kept the atmosphere light, even as students sweat under the pressure of crunching numbers.
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We didn’t say this was going to be easy. Some of these questions are pretty tough.
- Bob Lombardo, moderator at the MathCounts competition
“We didn’t say this was going to be easy,” Lombardo remarked after all 17 teams got a question wrong. “Some of these questions are pretty tough.”
The students came from 17 different schools in Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto. The competition featured three main rounds: An individual sprint round where students answer 30 questions in 40 minutes, an eight-question individual round with three minutes per question and a team round where teams of four have 20 minutes to answer 10 questions.
Several students on the Braden River Middle School team stepped outside during a break in the tournament, happy about their second place status and excited to talk about MathCounts.
“The competition is mostly what makes it fun,” said Fiorella Recchioni, 12. “Math in general can not be fun, but the fact that you are going up against so many other teams, that’s the best part.”
Aiden Vancil, 12, said competing in MathCounts had gotten him thinking about a potential career as an engineer. And he said answering questions under pressure instilled confidence, a necessary trait for the other career path MathCounts has gotten him thinking about: acting.
His teammate Sean Davis, 14, agreed the competition helped students develop skills beyond doing long division by hand or multiplying fractions.
“You have to learn to control your nerves, and at MathCounts, if you learn the skills you can get really good at answering questions quickly,” said Braden River Middle School student Sean Davis, 14.
My mom says it’s really hard and she doesn’t know where to start, or how to accomplish it, so she is glad we know what we are doing.
- Alyssa Currier, a 13-year-old from Brookside Middle School
Alyssa Currier, a 13-year-old from Brookside Middle School in Sarasota, said adults often marveled at her math skills.
“My mom says it’s really hard and she doesn’t know where to start, or how to accomplish it, so she is glad we know what we are doing,” Currier said.