Marianapolis math team 'primed' for state competition

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Thompson - posted Tue., Apr. 5, 2011
Math teacher and advisor Bob Hess passes out practice questions. Photos by Denise Coffey.
Math teacher and advisor Bob Hess passes out practice questions. Photos by Denise Coffey.

In 21 years of coaching math teams, Bob Hess considers this year’s Marianapolis team to be the best. In their first full season in the Greater New London County Math League, Marianapolis came in first place. They’ve qualified for both the state and the New England competitions as a result.

Hess tried to get a team into the league five years ago, but was told there was no room for another school team. Last year, Marianapolis was allowed entry. Unfortunately they missed the first two meets of the season.

We started in the hole,” Hess said. After only three meets, Marianapolis tallied enough points that they were poised to qualify for the state competition at the end of the season. When their last meet was cancelled because of flooding, their chance to compete at the state level went out the window.

In this, their first full season in the league, Marianapolis is in first place. They beat out 15 other schools to take first place, including E. O. Smith and Pomfret, two schools with reputations for fielding excellent math teams.

The team is made up of sophomores Angel Chu, Catherine Kang, and Leo Jiau; juniors Allen Li, and Yilin Wei; seniors Jerry Ming, Hao Liu and Mike Sun. Three of them have made it into the league’s All Star team. The team is composed of the two top seniors in the league, the two top juniors and the two top underclassmen. Yilin Wei is one of two top juniors in the league. Jerry Ming and Hao Liu are the league’s two top seniors.

Teams in the GNLCML compete in six matches per season. Each match has five rounds and each round centers on a specific math topic: the first round is arithmetic, the second round is algebra I, the third is geometry, the fourth is algebra II, and the fifth round is comprised of pre-calculus type problems. A team of three students attack each round. The team is given three test questions and they have 10 minutes to complete them all. Individuals on each team may not speak with one another. They must complete the test on their own.

Each match allows for a sixth team round. In this round only, teammates can work together on a math problem and use calculators.

After each round, the tests are gathered up by proctors and graded. The team with the biggest score for the round wins the round. After six rounds, the team with the most points wins the match.

Hess is proud of the students on his team. “If I ask them to look over something, they’ll do it. They love it. They love the challenge and they’re good at it.” He will teach them new math on occasion, but most of it they know. He will coach them on the rules which can be picky, but these things are more stylistic than mathematic. He tries to gather material for them to practice on. He’ll strategize, trying to place each student in a position to maximize their scoring potential. He helps them with vocabulary because for all of these students, English is their second language.

I hold the reins easy,” he said. “I don’t hold them back.”

In their March 31 match at Norwich Free Academy, Angel Chu volunteered to participate in the hardest round so that Wei could perform in an earlier round and get a perfect score of 18. As a result, Wei won the league’s scoring contest. Hao Liu and Jerry Ming finished as the top two scoring seniors in the league. As for Chu, she volunteered to take on round five, a test involving conic problems. Conics involve circles and parabolas and hyperbola and equations.

The team had prepared for it, Hess said, but they didn’t feel as confident with that round as with the others.

Wei is on target to surpass any student Hess has coached in 21 years. He is nationally ranked, having scored 12th out of 148 on an American Region Mathematics League test. There is a United States of America Mathematical Olympiad. Participants who do well in a test such as this are often sent to compete in international competitions. There are hundreds of thousands of scholarship dollars available for students who excel in math, Hess said.

When you solve a problem correctly and accurately, you feel your achievement,” said Wei. “You feel that your work paid off.” He loves math. “Practice,” he suggested. “Start with easy problems. Build your confidence. That’s how I do it. I build my confidence through easier problems so I can conquer the harder ones.


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