Saturday morning began with a flurry of radicals and polynomials — all without the help of a calculator. By 2:15 p.m., about 525 students sat rigid in their seats in the Buchholz High auditorium. Only one team could be the winner.
To a hushed crowd, the results were announced: With 279 points, the Buchholz math team was the winner of the Region 2 Florida Association of Mu Alpha Theta competition.
"This is the start of our season," said Will Frazer, the Buchholz team coach and Region 2 director. "The kids are always anxious for January to roll around, because that's when we really start competing."
After Saturday's competition, he said, the Buchholz teams would begin competing about every two weeks.
Buchholz, which has won the state Mu Alpha Theta championship seven years in a row, will move on to compete in Orlando in April.
"Everything we do during the regular season is preparation for states and nationals," Frazer said.
For some students, however, Saturday's tests weren't about moving on to the next round.
"It's not really about the competition," said Kelly Gordon, a freshman at Gainesville High School. "It's just fun to chill with friends."
Because of the timing of the regional competition, Gordon said she didn't study much.
"We just had midterms, so studying for those was the same as studying for this test," she said.
Josie Corbett, a junior at GHS, celebrated her 17th birthday with a pre-calculus test in the Buchholz cafeteria.
"I wouldn't choose to spend my birthday here," she said, "but it's fun anyway."
Frazer credits this win, as well as Buchholz's previous successes, to their extensive training system.
Buchholz defeated second-place Eastside High by 41 points and the third-place Stanton College Prep of Jacksonville by 87 points.
"We've created an extremely advanced training program," he said. "There's nothing like it in the Southeast. Because of our math and science program, we attract a lot of phenomenal kids."
A statewide competition will be held at Buchholz on March 17, and Frazer said all profits will go to children in Alachua County. He expects to donate at least $3,000.
The state convention will be held at the DoubleTree Hotel at Universal Studios in Orlando from April 20-21.
If Buchholz wins the state competition, they would then move on to the national competition in Boston from July 8-13. Buchholz has won five national championships in a row.
"A lot of our kids are most excited for that," Frazer said. "Beyond the actual competition, most of them dream about going to schools like MIT or Harvard."
As for a future in math, some students saw the competition Saturday as a starting point for their careers.
"I want to go into forensics or computer science engineering, and there's a lot of math involved in both," said Matthew Knight, a freshman at Fleming Island High. "It'll give me a huge advantage over other students if I can remember any of this stuff."
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