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Team has storied past, uncertain future
To the Editor:
The Oxford Hills Math Team has a long history of success. Every year from 1982 to 1993, the team was one of the top two teams in the state, defeating other math colossi such as Bangor High School, the Maine School of Science and Mathematics, and Hebron Academy on a yearly basis.
There was an endless list of willing participants; ﬁnding the necessary 10 participants for each meet was effortless for the coaches. In addition to having a full roster, the team had a nationally recognized coach - Allen Gerry. Mr. Gerry is still the head coach to this day, demonstrating a remarkable 40-year commitment to the team.
Despite this amazing history, today the high school cannot muster 10 students who want to participate in its monthly competitions, practice regularly and push the bounds of their mathematical ability.
After being ﬁrst in the region and in the state for so long, the team placed 47th in the state last year, and has not had a full roster since 2009. Since then, it has been necessary to recruit students mere days before a competition, giving them no time to prepare, and usually sentencing them to a score they feel dissatisﬁed with.
As the captain of the team, I feel this is an injustice to the high school, and to our devoted coach.
Team participants practice weekly in a collaborative environment for the monthly competitions. In addition to learning new math concepts, students learn how to synthesize ideas to solve unusual questions. They acquire a wealth of problem solving skills, many of which can be applied in everyday settings.
For students interested in pursuing scientiﬁc, technological or mathematical disciplines in college, I would argue that the math team is the most important activity to participate in during high school.
On competition days, teams from across the state gather at four central locations. Participants work through ﬁve individual rounds, each of which contains three problems on a speciﬁc topic. Each team then works together on a team round, which contains 10 questions on assorted topics.
The year is concluded with a state meet, where over a thousand math team participants gather in an auditorium for a ﬁnal competition, second only in size to that of Florida.
Many students believe the team is only for math geniuses who have received A’s in every class. This is far from the truth. Students who are willing to devote time and effort to the team typically excel.
Between our two coaches, Mr. Gerry and Mr. Hill, and the existing members of the team, there is a strong support network for learning new or difﬁcult concepts. Many students who participate on the team also score well on the math section of the SAT, a statement I can personally attest to.
Local engineer Garth Grover, a graduate of Oxford Hills who went on to Princeton University and MIT, says that “participating in the Oxford Hills Math Team prepared me for my future by developing not only my math ability but also my critical thinking skills and my self conﬁdence.
The team gave me the opportunity to be part of a long winning tradition, competing against the best students in Maine and New England.”
I met Mr. Gerry after having completed my ﬁrst year of algebra. After hearing about the math team, I was initially apprehensive: why would I join a team where everyone else was smarter than I was; where I would have to struggle to get a score I could feel happy with?
The pleasure I experienced from advancing up the state ranks made the work well worth it. In addition, I have met many students from across the state who share my enjoyment of math, and who I hope to see in college or beyond.
In the upcoming school year, I encourage new and returning students to be part of the math team. It would be a shame to not take full advantage of the skill and experience of Mr. Gerry, a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence from the National Science Foundation.
Unfortunately, the ﬁrst competition is at the end of September, leaving little time to waste. So, to all students who are interested in math and feel like they want to go further, I hope to have persuaded you to investigate the math team.