Sports have largely been sidelined in Hawaii’s schools this fall, but high school “mathletes” will be duking it out at a competition on Halloween, even if they have to do it long-distance.
About 25 schools and 200 students are expected to take part this morning in the virtual tournament sponsored by the Oahu Mathematics League. Some teams will report to their campuses, while others will be crunching the problems at home, monitored by their coaches via online meetings.
“We really wanted to provide an opportunity for students to have part of their normal life back,” said league President Lance Suzuki, who teaches at ‘Iolani School. “With school being disrupted at the end of last year, we wanted to make sure that at least students had a way to exercise their math ability. We didn’t want them to atrophy.”
The league holds seven meets each year but had to cancel the final two last spring because of the coronavirus pandemic. This is the second meet of the new season. The first was a trial run to see whether things worked virtually.
“I’m actually happy that they’re continuing it, especially for us seniors; this is our last year to compete,” said Harvey Lloyd Picar, who is on Waipahu High School’s math team. “With options limited now with COVID-19, with some extracurriculars not happening at all and sports looking pretty bleak, it was something students could look forward to even though it was virtual.”
“I’ve always loved math,” added Picar, 17, who also leads his school’s Model United Nations club. “We do have to wake up early for the Saturday meets, but the people make them fun and we’re able to kind of learn from each other.”
The October meet just happened to fall on Halloween this year. Asked whether the problems qualify as tricky or treats, Suzuki said, “I think a little of both.”
“It’s always surprised me that we can get 200 kids doing math on a Saturday morning,” he added.
The league, now in its 53rd year, is run entirely by volunteers and includes public and private schools. Switching to the new format required everyone to step up, according to Frank Mauz, a retired math instructor at Honolulu Community College.
“To make it happen has meant a tremendous amount of extra planning and work for the already pandemic-challenged teachers/coaches,” said Mauz, who helps screen questions for the contest. “Kudos to OML President Lance Suzuki for his insightful leadership, which has made it possible.”
The students are divided into three divisions: large teams (up to 10 members), small teams (up to six) and junior varsity (only freshmen and sophomores).
Today’s meet covers Algebra I and II, geometry and trigonometry. Students will have 10 minutes to complete three problems — one easy, one medium and one hard — in various categories.
Contestants rely on pencil and paper to solve the problems — no calculators are allowed. This year, rather than handing in their papers, they will use a Google form to submit their answers remotely.
“The first meet was actually a trial run, so it didn’t count toward our placement for the school year,” Picar said. “I think it was very successful, but it is very different from in person. … We don’t get to see other students virtually, just within our own Google Meet, our own school.”
Along with the individual written tests, each competition includes a team event that allows for collaboration among teammates.
“We choose three people from our whole team roster, and they answer one problem that involves all the math concepts in that meet,” said Picar, adding that this year it will happen via Google Meet.
Students from Maui are joining the competition this year. Last year, schools on Hawaii island also competed in the Oahu league remotely.
The math league season runs through April, and organizers as well as students hope they’ll be able to return to in-person meets later in the academic year. Locations for the meets typically rotate among schools.
To get involved, visit oahumath.org.