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Washington Middle School adds fourth win to streak

By Susan Essoyan


Washington Middle School captured the state title at the 2014 Hawaii MATHCOUNTS competition for the fourth year in a row Saturday, and three of its students will join one from Seabury Hall to represent the state at the nationals.

Washington's Kent Kiyama, a wide-eyed seventh-grader, finally came out on top after a hard-fought countdown round where the top 10 scorers faced off over complex word problems projected on a screen — with just 45 seconds to answer.

"I was nervous and excited at the same time," said Kiyama, who tended to hit the buzzer within a few seconds, before the announcer even finished reading the problems.

Sometimes it paid off and he stunned the audience with the right answer. Other times, he got it wrong. At one point he stood up to leave the table, thinking he had been eliminated.

The other winners who will make up the state team are Jason Cho and Neopold Ko of Washington, and David Shiraki of Maui's Seabury Hall.

During part of the countdown round, Washington's coach, Sung Park, quietly left the room.

"When our kids went against our kids, I couldn't watch," Park said afterward. "I had to go outside. It was nerve-wracking … The questions were way harder than usual."

Quite a few problems stumped the contestants and audience members, including parents and the engineers who help run the event.

Seabury's Shiraki, a strapping 12-year-old, said he had been to the state competition before, but this was his first state countdown round and he was "very nervous."

"It's nice to have all that pressure released off my back," he said afterward. "Now I have to worry about nationals."

Three students from the Maui school made it into the state's top 10 based on their written scores on tests Saturday morning at the competition.

"To get to this level, the kids work so hard and put in so much time," said Seabury's coach, Steve Vurno. "People tend to think of math as an individual sport. You'd be surprised how they come together as a true team, like a basketball team or a baseball team, that tight bond that forms."

Punahou and ‘Iolani each had one student in the top 10, and the other five students were from Washington.

"It's so refreshing to see the level of achievement these students have at such a young age," said Lynne Unemori, vice president of corporate relations for Hawaiian Electric Co., the corporate sponsor of the contest. "It's really heartening. Our future is in good hands."

The contest, in its 31st year, is supported by the Hawaii Society of Professional Engineers and numerous volunteers. It is designed to get middle school students excited about math, but it also teaches the teens life lessons along the way.

Ko, whose mother said he used to be a rascal, had come up short when he first tried out for Washington's math team. But he asked permission to just observe and learn, and eventually made the team.

Now he is headed to the 2014 Raytheon MATHCOUNTS National Competition in Orlando, Fla., on May 9.

"I learned that if you just spend your time doing something you want to achieve, and you do your best," Ko said, "you can achieve whatever you want."


1. Washington Middle School
2. Seabury
3. Punahou School
4. ‘Iolani School
5. Kawananakoa Middle School
6. Waiakea Intermediate School
7. Wahiawa Middle School
8. Mililani Middle School

Countdown round winners:
1. Kent Kiyama, Washington
2. Jason Cho, Washington
3. David Shiraki, Seabury
4. Neopold Ko, Washington

Sung Park, Washington

Top scores on written tests:
1. Jason Cho, Washington
2. David Shiraki, Seabury
3. Neopold Ko, Washington
4. Kent Kiyama, Washington
5. Edward Requilman, Washington
6. Kenny Thai, Washington
7. Ryan Park, Punahou
8. Shelby Ferrier, Seabury
9. Steven Doan, Seabury
10. Norton Kishi, ‘Iolani

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