By Gabe Licht
DELANO, MN How many license plates can be made if each plate consists of one letter followed by four digits?
Members of the Delano High School Math Team have been solving problems like this and will have one more chance to do so at the state tournament March 9 in South St. Paul.
The team finished second to Lakeville at the conference meet Feb. 9.
“You get to go to state if you’re the second-place team two years in a row to the same first-place team,” coach Jerry Shouts said. “Last year, we got to go to state because, even though we were second, we were one of the top teams in the whole state. We were 15th in the state. This year, we were 35th in the state.”
This will be their 12th consecutive trip to the state tournament.
“We had 10 years of first-place finishes,” Shouts said. “Now, we’ve taken second the last two years, but we still have a streak of state appearances.”
The program has come a long way since Shouts began it 26 years ago.
As a new dad commuting to Delano, Shouts had decided to give up coaching basketball. A couple years later, he heard about math team and decided to start one in Delano.
“The first year, I had to beg kids to join because it doesn’t exactly sound like a lot of fun. ‘Hey, let’s drive an hour to Shakopee and do a bunch of math problems,’” Shouts said.
For the first 10 years, the Northfield team won the conference annually.
Delano built momentum and became a force to be reckoned with, with 15 state appearances out of the past 16 years.
“I don’t know what caused it to take off,” Shouts said.
But it did take off, with as many as 84 students participating one year.
“We were the only team, other than football, to have to take two buses to events,” Shouts said. “Having 84 students was a lot to handle.”
Now, there are 30 students on the team.
Before each meet, Shouts selects eight starters, including two in 10th grade or younger. Each competes in two of the four individual events: algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and pre-calculus. They each have 12 minutes to solve four problems before coming together to solve six problems in 20 minutes.
To prepare for those problems, each student gets a packet with general information about each topic and practice problems. Students have one practice per week and many of them learn the skills needed during advanced math topics class.
“The spectrum of problems is so broad it makes it difficult to practice,” Shouts said. “You have to know the basic skills behind it to stand a chance. First, you learn the basic skills. Then, it’s really just experience.”
For the state tournament, problems will be based on those the students have already solved.
“We need to go back and learn to do all the problems presented this year,” Shouts said.
That doesn’t mean it will be easy.
“Math team is very challenging,” Shouts said. “There’s problems I can’t do. It’s designed to challenge the best in the state.”
Shouts enjoys getting to know the students who compete on the math team.
“Most of them, I’ve had in multiple classes and having them on the math team for multiple years helps,” Shouts said.
He’s also seen several sets of siblings go through the program.
For example, state qualifiers Chase Soukup and Tayler Hedtke both had older siblings who were among the school’s top scorers of all time.
Hedtke said she decided to follow in her sister’s footsteps after quitting basketball.
“I quit that and was looking for another activity,” Hedtke said. “I looked forward to joining this.
Soukup said he likes math and enjoys the challenge.
“I like having my friends on the team, while also doing something extracurricular,” state qualifier Rylee Sevigny said.
Hedtke said the team doesn’t worry about whether or not they make it to state.
“We don’t make a big deal about it,” Hedtke said. “We treat it as an individual season and say, ‘OK, let’s do good this year and see what we can do.’”
In all, nine team members will travel to the state meet: Soukup, Sevigny, Hedtke, Anna Schleper, Kalley Johnson, Allysa Dunnigan, Joseph Lax, Jack Weber, and Stephanie Almquist.
The team is coached by Shouts and assistant coach Joe Vieau.