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Boy, that's calculating

For a sixth-grade math team from Buchanan Middle School, timing is everything.

By LOGAN D. MABE

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 13, 2001


CARROLLWOOD -- Quick. What is 5 percent of 360?

If you haven't answered by now, you probably wouldn't have beaten Buchanan Middle School sixth-grader Alex Smith in the recent Hillsborough County Math League Competition.

Alex nailed the answer in a pressure-packed tiebreaker, beating out seven other opponents who, like Alex, had perfect scores on the written portion of the contest.

"He won it by a second," said teacher and math team coach Bill Jones.

"I think it was less than that," bragged Alex.

Along with teammates James Dillingham, Paul Stauduhar and Kyle Vaughan, Alex won top sixth-grade honors in the 36-school competition last month. The victory was the culmination of months of preparation that had the four coming to school an hour early every day to work on math problems.

"They put in a lot of time," Jones said.

Buchanan's seventh-grade team of Tyler Boyle, Andrew Davis, Corbin Hanson and Stephen Lappano finished ninth. The eighth-grade team of Marcy Gordon, Joey Holliday, Julie Vaughan and Sarah Wilkins finished seventh. Buchanan finished fourth overall.

Alex said he has always been pretty good at math, a subject that seems to come easily to him. And he said being on the school's Battle of the Books team helped him prepare for the rigors of live competition.

At the Math League contest, students started with a 25-question written test. Alex aced it -- 25 correct answers -- to get into the tiebreaker. Later, the team answered more questions as a unit. In the end, they scored 330 points out of a possible 360 and took first place by just six points.

Speed as much as accuracy is a factor in scoring, but the team had practiced strategy and tactics to prepare for the event.

"At the meet, when everybody was talking amongst themselves, one of the teachers from another school came over and asked us how we got the answers so fast," Kyle said. "Like how many factors are there in 180."

"We have a secret," Paul said with a grin, "that we don't feel like publishing in the newspaper. We just told her we were fast."

Jones, who has coached most every sport in his 34 years of teaching, said he tries to instill the competitive ethic in his math teams, too.

"It's just as important as a sport," he said. "These are hard-working kids and they deserve the recognition."

The trophy they added to Buchanan's growing hardware collection wasn't their only reward.

"We all got McFlurries, too," Paul said.

- Logan D. Mabe can be reached at (813) 226-3464.

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