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Winning when it counts

Young Houghton Middle School MathCounts team finds success

March 16, 2010

HOUGHTON - As with most middle school events, one could expect MathCounts to be dominated by older teams, whose players have more experience and more advanced math classes under their belts.

In most cases, one would be right. But bucking the odds is the Houghton Middle School team, which is headed to state with a roster of three sixth-graders and a seventh-grader.

"It's a building year, although along the way we're winning," said Houghton Middle School coach John Gershenson. "That helps."

Article Photos

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Coach Gershenson helps team members Maki and Hu with practice questions at the team’s practice on Friday.

The team is preparing for the state competition in Traverse City, which will take place Saturday. Feb. 16, the team of Daniel Gershenson, Griffin Harvey, Phoebe Hu and Isabella Maki won first place in the chapter competition in Kingsford; Anna Humes and Noah Gershenson were additional team members.

Daniel Gershenson, who won first place in the individual competition, was the only seventh grader on the team.

"We're all sixth grade except Daniel, so it was a good experience to help us in state, because it was new to all of us," Maki said.

Now in its 27th year nationally, MathCounts has grown to include more than 6,000 schools across the country.

The competitions, usually about three hours long, consist of four parts: the sprint round, where students try to finish 30 problems in 40 minutes; the target round, where competitors get eight multi-step problems in a half hour, presented in four pairs; the team round, where the team works together to complete 10 problems in 20 minutes; and the countdown round, where pairs of players determined by scores in the sprint and target round try to beat each other and the clock.

Players can only use calculators for the target and team rounds.

The math problems they face in competition can be as advanced as geometry - "which none of them have had in class," John Gershenson pointed out.

The team practices after school Tuesdays and Fridays; practices started in September.

Friday afternoon, team members were working on practice questions, including "The temperature fell 3 degrees every hour from 6 p.m. through midnight. The temp was 17 degrees at 6 p.m. What was the temp at midnight?" and "When rolling two dice, what is the probability of rolling the same number on both dice?"

The skills the team members have picked up have had benefits beyond the competition.

"Some of the stuff we learn here we wouldn't get taught until late in the year, so we already know how to do it," Maki said.

"And we learn how to work as a team," Hu added.

Garrett Neese can be reached at



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