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Cade Middle School students counting down days until state math competition

By JR Ortega
March 14, 2011 at 7:02 p.m.
Updated March 13, 2011 at 10:14 p.m.

Cade Middle School eighth grader Jake Smitherman, 14, solves a practice problem on the whiteboard during an after-school preparation session for the upcoming MathCounts state competition.  This is Jake's third year qualifying for the competition.

THINK YOU KNOW YOUR MATH?

Try these sample MathCounts competition problems.

1. A rectangle tile measures three inches by four inches. What is the fewest number of these tiles that are needed to completely cover a rectangular region that is two feet by five feet?

2. How many combinations of pennies, nickles and/or dimes are there with a total value of 25 cents?

3. What is the greatest whole number that must be a factor of the sum of any four consecutive positive odd numbers?

ANSWERS: 1. 120 tiles. 2. 12 combinations 3.8

Source: www.mathcounts.org

"It's 62 over 3," said Ben Morgan as he penciled in some numbers on a practice math worksheet.

"We're already past that," scoffed Scarlette Elsik, acting jokingly annoyed.

Two others, Ben Fogal and Jake Smitherman, join in on Elsik's little game.

Truth of the matter is, the four are eighth-graders at Cade Middle School who are going to a MathCounts state competition next week.

Joking banter is just part of how they spend the hour solving practice math problems on Thursdays after school.

This will be Jake's third year going to state.

For the others, this is their first time and they look to Jake for leadership.

"Math is my best subject," said Jake, taking a break from a geometry equation.

Jake was a student at Nazareth Academy before Cade opened. He went to state in sixth grade as individual and then in a team in seventh grade and now one more time.

The team has competitions with other chapters throughout the year and advanced to state based on points earned at the regional competition, which was held at Our Lady of Victory on Feb. 12.

The state competition has several rounds that are timed, some that allow use of a calculator and some that don't. Some are individual and some are team.

Scarlette, the lone girl on the team, can't wait to go head-to-head with the best in the state.

Her teammates are also her friends but since they are all boys, sometimes she finds herself disassociated with them, she said.

"Sometimes they'll talk about something I don't know anything about," she said. "I'm the lone wolf over here."

Scarlette was introduced to MathCounts through a friend who was on the team when she went to Howell Middle School.

Ben Fogal and Ben Morgan have not gone to state either.

"It's going to be different," said Ben Fogal. "We're going to have to be asking Jake questions."

Their coach, Teresa Innes, has taught mathematics for about 20 years, primarily in Victoria, but first in Port Lavaca.

Spending time with the kids, she has realized they are not only math whizzes, but also talented in other areas.

"I'm loving it. Math isn't all they excel at," she said about watching them work together. "They're going to do great things."

Jake is walking, talking math, Ben Fogal is an artist and does work with graphic design, Scarlette is heavily involved in raising livestock and Ben Morgan excels at science and wants to be an aeronautical engineer.

Jake's mother, Tracy Smitherman, agreed with Innes and is heavily involved in her son's education.

Jake is juggling studying mechanical engineering when he goes to college. His father is an engineer at Dow, Jake's mother said.

"In general, education is very important in our family," she said. "From an early age, we could see the potential in Jake and the natural born gift of math. We kind of push him to excel his God-given talent."

Having a strong family support system that pushes for an education has helped all four take an interest in excelling at school, the four said.

And though they may not agree on getting to the answer of an equation, the one thing they can agree on is math being somehow apart of their careers.

Still, going to state competition is nerve-wracking, Scarlette said.

"Those kids are robots," she said laughing.

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