Quakers Finish Fourth at MathCounts Chapter

Powerful 8th grade team was hitting the peak of its powers when COVID-19 shut down the state competition.

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The 2020 MathCounts team, shortly before COVID shut them down

The Friends School MathCounts team of Noah Ripke (‘24), Xander Dickens (‘24), Ira Geller (‘24), and Macy Goldberg (‘24) placed fourth in the Baltimore/Chesapeake Chapter Competition at McDonogh School on Saturday, February 1 to qualify for the Maryland State MathCounts Competition. This marks the 31st time in the last 35 years that the school has qualified, and the first time since 2017.

The Chapter Competition comprises middle schools in Baltimore City, Cecil, and Harford Counties. The top five teams of the 16 participating and the top 28 of 122 individuals competing, qualified for the State Competition, originally scheduled to be held on March 14 at Johns Hopkins University. In addition to the aforementioned quartet, eighth graders Kaya Banerjee, Connor Ennis, Sam Gerardi, Krisna Kumar, and Joseph Penders as well as seventh grader Henry Turner competed as individuals.

The written portion of any MathCounts contest consists of three rounds: two of which are individual and one of which is a team round. Individual scores are determined by combining the scores on two rounds – the Sprint, a written test of computational skills on which calculators are not allowed, and the Target, a written test of lengthier, more difficult problems, for which calculators are permitted.

There are 46 possible points combined in these two rounds. Ripke finished fourth in the Chapter with a score of 32 points. Dickens tied for 13th with a score of 28, Geller tied for 18th with a 27, and Henry Turner tied for the last qualifying spot at 28th with 26. Although Kumar had the same score, she just missed qualifying based on a tie breaker.

Ripke’s fourth place finish earned him a spot in the eight-person oral Countdown Round that took place after the written portions had been completed. Competitors have 45 seconds to answer questions without calculators head-to-head against another person. Unfortunately, he lost in the first round in a best of 3 format.

In the collaborative Team Round, the four team members must solve ten problems in just 20 minutes with the aid of their calculators. The overall team score is determined by averaging the individual scores of the team members on the first two rounds and then adding the Team Round score (each of these problems counting two points). The Friends team was tied with the eventual champions Roland Park Elementary Middle School after the first two rounds of the competition, but got only three questions correct to their five in the Team Round.

The scoring was so close that had the Friends team gotten one more team question correct, we would have finished second instead of McDonogh. Other local schools competing were Bryn Mawr (6th), Dumbarton, Gilman (5th), Hamilton, Hereford, Krieger Schechter, Mount Royal, Perry Hall, and Ridgely (3rd).

Goldberg’s and Kumar’s spring break plans prevented them from going to States, so Connor Ennis filled in as the fourth team member despite his lead role in the school musical. Unable to make it to the Chapter Contest, Dan Porteous was available to go to States as an unofficial participant.

The team continued to practice daily at study halls and after school over the next five weeks to prepare for the State Competition. Each weekend students worked on past State Sprint and Target Rounds and during one of the practice sessions each week took a past Team Round. Ninth-grader Alana Taylor helped out with a couple of practices. Sophie Soltanian, an eleventh grader who had helped prep the team in the fall semester, stopped by for a session as well.

On the opening night of Lion King Jr., three mathletes, Penders, Dickens, and Geller, and Mr. Watt were able to attend the annual MathCounts Dinner at the Engineers’ Club in Mt. Vernon. After the delicious dinner, students squared off against coaches and parents in three different countdown rounds. Geller, as the only Friends student to volunteer, got two questions correct, including the clincher for his team.

This team preparation culminated in the quartet having to compete against foursomes from the two MathCounts classes on the last day of classes before the State Contest. The pressure was on as any foursome who tied or beat the team would steal their points as part of the investigation points all students in the classes must earn.

The team round was from the 2002 State Contest. That year the Friends team got eight team questions correct and finished 6th in the state. Because Ennis had class at a different time (working by himself, he got three of the ten correct), the other three had to work shorthanded. Incredibly, they got all 10 questions correct. Coach Watt has been giving this set of questions to State-bound teams ever since 2002 and this was the first time in his memory that any team got all of the questions correct!

Just before the second class started the team round, Coach Watt received an e-mail indicating that the State Competition had been cancelled. For all the teams set to compete, just as for NCAA basketball teams, there was great disappointment. This Friends MathCounts team was really peaking at the right time and will never find out how well they could have done.

The MathCounts program, with the goal “to stimulate 6th , 7th , and 8th grade students’ interest and achievement in mathematics,” was started in 1983 by the National Society of Professional Engineers. Friends, one of over 7,000 schools nationwide that participate, has been involved almost since the beginning. Twice (most recently in 1994) Friends has had the second-place team in the state of Maryland, and on three occasions individual Friends students, with the last being Jon Rubin – currently a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics at UCLA – in 2004, have placed high enough to represent the state at the National Competition.

Test yourself on these real problems from 2020: