Jan. 1, 2007

Adding up the continuous victories: Delano Schools' math team remains undefeated

By Kelsey Linden
Staff Writer

The hallways at Delano High School are crowded with anticipation as the time draws near for the test.

Students enter the cafeteria with nothing but a calculator and a pencil. Silence fills the air, as the tests are distributed face down, but the cheers begin when the scoreboard reads “Delano: first place.”

Just like an after-school sport, the math team schedules time out of its day, not to shoot a basket or to take a dive in the pool, but to advance their mathematical skills.

Practices take place Monday afternoons, and meets are every other Monday evening.

The coaches of the team

Jerry Shouts has been with the school district for 24 years, and has been advisor of the math team since it began.

Alongside Shouts, Joe Vieau has been the assistant coach for math league for the past seven years.

Originally receiving a degree in mathematical education, Vieau enjoys “watching these kids grow up and challenge themselves academically. It’s amazing at how rapidly these kids can solve these problems. They have fun with it and that makes our job fun.”

In a way, the math team is “just like a sport,” but more of an individual sport, because each student receives his or her own math score aside from the overall team score.

In order to letter, a student must acquire 80 points. Attending a meet alone will earn a student 10 points.

Students also receive points for each correct answer on their tests. Many students will choose to practice extra hours in order to earn more points.

“In the beginning, we had to beg kids to be on it,” Shouts said about the early years.

Currently, the math team has 62 members. Why are so many drawn to participate in an after school activity that involves the same kind of practice as a standard math class?

“It’s a fun social activity. Many of them are excellent math students, but not all of them are. Not all of them necessarily enjoy math, they just like socializing,” Shouts explained.

When asked to compare math team to a sport, McKenzie West said, “In math team, you get to put your academic skills against the state.”

As far as obligations go, Shouts said, “It’s certainly not the same type of commitment, and I think that’s why a lot of kids like it, because it doesn’t take a lot of hours like a sport would.”

The captains of math team

Margaret Engelhardt and Benjamin Zeug, the current captains, are responsible for organizing the meets and motivating the team.

“This is the first year we’ve actually had captains,” Shouts said. Because as it was the first year for captains, Dr. Bruce Locklear, school principal, selected the two highest scorers from last year.

Both Engelhardt and Zeug are starters, along with Elizabeth Dake, Matthew Schuette, Adam Mankowski, Christopher Roering, Robert McMullen, and Timothy Kuka.

There are eight starters, but at least two of the starters have to be a sophomore or younger. When testing, the events are algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and problem solving.

Any student who wants to do all the events can do so if he or she chooses, but typically, a student would pick two. Engelhardt and Zeug compete in all four.

With no limit on the size for this activity, more and more students join each year. With 62 members representing Delano, the average score is not affected when a few students perform poorly on the tests.

The tests are only four questions long, and students only have 10 minutes to complete all the problems.

In terms of this year, Shouts nodded as he said, “We’ve been really dominating. If you look at the top 18 students in the league, 13 are from Delano.”

“The first meet, we totally dominated. I think we won by the largest margin ever,” Shouts said.

In the second meet, Delano was behind after three events, but came from behind to win the event by quite a bit. Delano also won the team event, which brought them to first place.

Delano has placed first four times, and has been in first place for the past three years in a row. Shouts and Vieau hope that this year will bring them to a solid four-year victory.

Delano was not always on top of the scoreboard. Northfield used to be the leader when the team first started out. Whether Zeug would like to admit it or not, Delano has lost before.

Engelhardt, who is currently number one in the state district with 36 points, has been the leading scorer in the state for the past two years.

Waving his finger in the air, Zeug openly stated, “I’m only one point behind Margaret. She better watch out because I’m catching up.”

Engelhardt jokingly disagreed. It’s certainly a competition against the two starters, but as a whole, they firmly believe it’s a team activity.

Zeug has a yearly math team tradition that everyone knows and enjoys. From the tape on the glasses to the pocket protector, he dresses in his famous nerd costume for the last meet.

“It’s more for the fun of watching kids stare,” he said.

All the students can agree that the drive to Shakopee and hard tests would not be the same without the stop at Pizza Hut. Math team is not only about academics – it also provides students with a chance to socialize and have fun with friends.

Even though it may seem like there is a huge emphasis on the starters, all the members participate and contribute equally.

Every participant has a chance to take their skills to state. It all depends on who is willing to work hard and practice.

“We have a lot of kids that are really competitive,” Vieau said.

However, “some students are clearly just in it for the pizza, Vieau laughed. “That’s okay, as long as they are having fun. It’s a social gathering plus the math league portion.”

Shouts added, “Most kids enjoy it to some level. I’ve found that most students that are involved in the math team end up doing bettering on their math school work. It increases your ACT scores.”

Shouts concluded, “I rarely have students that comes to math meets and says ‘I don’t like doing them.’”

When students join the math team, they join a group that encourages each student to put his or her skills to the test, but also to sit down with a slice of pizza and laugh it up.

It may be nice being a part of a team that “always wins,” but at the end of the day, the students know they have the skills, the talent, and the determination to excel above and beyond what is expected.

It’s all a matter of how much a team wants to win – and Delano is sure to continue its winning ways.

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