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TJ crunching the numbers

Now here are some kids who know a thing or two about numbers.

Thomas Jefferson High School’s math team is to number-crunching what the Seattle Mariners are to Northwest baseball fans. The TJ students are some of the best math whizzes in Washington.

In fact, they were in hot pursuit last Saturday of their school’s eighth consecutive state math championship. Twenty schools, including Decatur, entered the day-long Mu Alpha Theta (a national and state mathematics organization) competition in Jefferson’s cafeteria.

Would Jefferson come out on top again? Tom Norris, the school’s math coach for nine years, wasn’t sure. As his charges were brushing up on their algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus last week, he was confident, but he wasn’t counting out the competition, particularly one chool from the nearby Highline School District.

“Mount Rainier is very strong. They lost by only six points last year,” he noted.

And this year they won by about double that total, ending Jefferson’s seven-year reign as state champ.

There were no long faces among Jefferson’s contingent, though, despite their unaccustomed role of runnerup. “Not at all,” Morris said. “Mount Rainier is our good friend, good rival. We’ll just set a goal of beating them in the nationals.”

Jefferson already has distinguished itself at that level, finishing third last year in the national competition in Denver, Colo. Mount Rainier was eighth. This year’s national event will be in July at Mississippi State University.

Such prominence nationally and statewide requires more than a mind for math. Quick thinking is part of the equation, too. Last Saturday, competitors were given two minutes to do four math problems in one segment of the contest. In another, they raced against opponents ala the “Jeopardy” television game show, hitting a buzzer when they had their answers.

For math traditionalists, there was a one-hour written test, too.

Questions were written by a team of teachers well in advance of Saturday, then sprung on the students. From each school, the top individual score on any one test went into the team total to determine the final standings.

Brent Reed set the pace for Jefferson and everybody else in calculus, winning the overall state title in that subject.

Colleen Hicks, despite being one of Jefferson’s “math moms” and having two sons on the team, never ceases to be amazed at the students’ aptitude for numbers. And it’s not just her self-admitted mild case of math phobia.

“I’m just blown away by what all these kids do,” Hicks said. “I wasn’t very good at math in school, so it’s a very amazing thing for me to see them having so much success.”

Morris is thrilled for all of his students, and in a different way than the excitement that comes from coaching the Jefferson boys’ basketball team, his other extracurricular pursuit.

“There are rewards in both,” he said. “But it’s a little more fun when you finish third in the country in something.”

Pat Jenkins can be reach at 925-5565 and at www.fedwaymirror.com.

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