Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Go Figure -- It's No Problem; Orange Park Junior High Math Team Takes Regional Title

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Go Figure -- It's No Problem; Orange Park Junior High Math Team Takes Regional Title

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Maraghy, County Line staff writer

A four-digit perfect square number is created by placing two positive two-digit perfect square numbers next to each other. What is the four-digit square number?

Tough arithmetic? Not for the "mathletes" at Orange Park Junior High School, who breezed through problems like this to place first in the 23rd annual Mathcounts regional competition at the University of North Florida, sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers.

(The four-digit square number is 1681.)

Each year, about 35,000 U.S. students participate in Mathcounts, a math coaching and competition program for middle school students. Each fall, thousands of teachers, Mathcounts alumni and other volunteers coach students for several months in preparation for a regional competition. The top three schools progress to state and nationals.

For the first time at regional, Orange Park Junior High defeated longtime defending champions at James Weldon Johnson, a magnet school for gifted students in Duval County that has placed first for the past 12 years.

"This was the first upset," said Mike Kovacs, a scoring judge who said James Weldon Johnson teams have finished first for as long as he can remember.

"We always place second to them," said Chris Neal, a gifted studies teacher and Orange Park Junior High's math team coach for 14 years.

"The key to our success is the hours these kids put in," she said.

In the team competition, James Weldon Johnson finished second and Lakeside Junior High School finished third. All three schools will take a four-person team to the state competition.

"We are so excited," said Lakeside coach Trudi Lawless, who started Lakeside's team three years ago. "Our goal every year is to beat Orange Park Junior High. We haven't made it yet."

Lakeside's four-person team is Alex Kriehn, Austin Carter, Jennifer Klarfeld and Perry Peguillan. The alternate is Josh Redlitz.

Though the main competition is over, Neal at Orange Park Junior High said her students told her they want to continue practicing after school. …

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