Call it brain sports.
While Akron's LeBron James continues to pull down more headlines than rebounds as the nation's highest-rated high school basketball player, some Ohioans wonder why the public often doesn't seem as fired up about academics as athletics.
For proof of that competitive spirit, look no further than the annual Toledo Area MATHCOUNTS competition.
“It's kind of like academic sports - brain sports,” 13-year-old Talea Cornelius beamed in describing the event, now in its 20th year both locally and nationally.
Talea, an eighth grader at Maumee Valley Country Day School, said it's pure fun because children learn how to compete against each other without the pressure of having a grade stuck to their school records. “You feel more free. It's your own choice to be here,” she said.
The regional event at the University of Toledo drew 160 middle-school students from 20 schools in nine northwest Ohio counties, not to mention a few dozen proud parents. Three teams - one each from Sylvania's McCord and Timberstone junior high schools, plus Maumee's Gateway Middle School - advanced to the March 8 state competition in Columbus, along with eight individual participants.
One of the highlights was the Countdown Round, in which students squared off against each other in a spelling bee-type format, except that questions were math problems.
Victor Tehensky, 14, an eighth grader at Christ the King School, won that competition with his response to this: “What is the units digit of the sum of the squares of the first nine positive integers?”
“Five,” he said, garnering a standing ovation and cheers from the crowd.
He and the other finalist of that segment, Patrick McEwen, 13, an eighth grader at McCord Junior High School in Sylvania, said they liked MATHCOUNTS because it boosted their self-confidence.
It was the third year for both. Their advice to others: Don't get psyched out.
“Go with your gut,” Patrick said. “Don't second-guess yourself.”
The Countdown Round is the dessert that follows the meat and potatoes: lengthy written tests taken in the morning. Those tests are the basis for deciding who will advance to the state competition.
Bo Waggoner of Gateway Middle School in Maumee and Vivek Ratnam of Timberstone Junior High in Sylvania finished first and second overall, respectively. Both became eligible for $1,000 UT scholarships for their performances.
Bo, who is 13 and in eighth grade, was modest about his win. He finished 18th last year. He said he enjoyed MATHCOUNTS because it has encouraged him “to learn extra math info you wouldn't otherwise know.”
The local event has been coordinated the past 12 years by Dan Stark, senior project manager at SSOE, Inc. He said he is pleased by how it has piqued students' curiosity.
“They come in with a passion for math. We just want to reinforce that and help them along the way,” Scott Crewson, business manager at BP's Oregon refinery, agreed.
BP, the primary sponsor, has contributed $31,000 to the Toledo event since 1991.
Statewide, 1,800 students from 283 schools competed in 15 regional tournaments, Rich Irwin, state coordinator, said.