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Middle school mathletes ace competition

Cloquet Middle School students who competed in the MATHCOUNTS Arrowhead Chapter Competition at the University of Minnesota-Duluth Feb. 9 include (back row, from left) Abby Smith, Cade Anderson, Josh Sanders, Nate Bong, Dom Jones, Lexi Norrgard and Coach Arne Maijala, and (front) Brylee Kiminski and Lucy Sinkkonen. Contributed Photo

Cloquet Middle School students brought home a lot of hardware from their recent MATHCOUNTS competition, according to their proud coach, Arne Maijala.

Maijala, a 20-year math teacher, teaches advanced seventh- and eighth-grade math at Cloquet Middle School. He starts recruiting kids in sixth grade who he thinks will do well as a “mathlete.” Once he has students picked out to participate, he works with the kids all year to prepare them for the competition.

Maijala said he has a tough time deciding which students to take to the competition every year.

“This is a good problem to have,” he noted.

Maijala is happy when he has just one student place eighth in the competition, which has happened in the past.

However, this year Cloquet took first place out of the 10 schools that competed in the Arrowhead Chapter Competition at the the University of Minnesota-Duluth Feb. 9. Moose Lake took third place and Esko took fourth.

According to Maijala, the CMS seventh- and eighth-grade students usually have a strong presence, but this year four of the eight students placed in the top 10 and Maijala is ecstatic about the achievement.

Eighth-graders Dom Jones, Abby Smith and Lexi Norrgard placed first, second and third, respectively, while seventh-grader Nate Bong placed seventh.

“I’m on cloud nine,” Maijala said.

The students spend six months preparing and competing in the Junior High Mathlete Competition at Esko, which helps prepare them for the big event, the MATHCOUNTS competition at UMD in February.

In the first round of the competition, or target round, the students are given two questions to answer in six minutes and they are allowed to use a calculator. They need to apply strategies to solve the multi-step problems.

The spirit round is next. The students are given 30 questions to solve in 40 minutes using only paper and pencils.

“It’s amazing how many of our kids scored pretty high in that,” Maijala said.

He said knowing key math vocabulary is important to do well in the competitions, as well as understanding sequences, formulas and geometry.

“The more you know, the easier it is,” Maijala said.

In the countdown competition, the top eight scorers compete one-on-one against each other. Cloquet took first, second and third in that competition also, impressing the students from the other schools they were competing against.

“I think being winners of competitions like this has more merit than athletic wins,” Maijala said. “They showed they can solve problems and work effectively in groups.”

Maijala uses the Power Up enrichment program to give him more time to work with the mathletes, which he considers a really big bonus.

“I thought it was admiral the way Dom helped to coach the other kids to teach them how he does it,” Maijala said.

Maijala admits he does not remember how the teams have placed through the years, but thinks this year’s competition is one of the strongest finishes for our area.

“I am still pretty pumped about that,” Maijala said.

MATHCOUNTS is sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers to encourage math and science skills in sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students.

The team of Dom Jones, Cade Anderson, Abby Smith and Lexi Norrgard will attend the MATHCOUNTS State Competition March 12.

The top four individuals from the state competition will go on to become the Minnesota team and compete at the National MATHCOUNTS competition later in the spring.