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Columbus Middle School had quite the showing during the recently held MATHCOUNTS event hosted at Central Community College-Columbus.

Five members comprising the 12-person team of seventh- and eighth-graders are preparing to compete at the March 16 state MATHCOUNTS competition held on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's east campus.

MATHCOUNTS, designed for sixth- through eighth-grade students, is intended to challenge and reward kids for their math prowess. The goal is to prepare students to tackle STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) professions later in life following high school or college graduation.

“It’s pretty much just a middle school math competition that goes over everything from basic to advanced math problems,” Brian Stepanek of the Nebraska Public Power District previously said. “It gets the kids really excited about math and better at math and propels them into STEM careers, of sorts."

The CCC-Columbus event was hosted by the Northeastern Nebraska Chapter of the National Society of Professional Engineers. Stepanek, an electrical engineer for NPPD, has been volunteering his services with the MATHCOUNTS competitions for the past decade, he said.

CMS students who qualified for the state team competition are seventh-graders Braylon Vancura and Kaden Brownlow, and eighth-graders Elijah Moser and Cooper Duranski. Seventh-grader Tanner Esch qualified for state individually. Kaden won’t be able to compete due to a conflict in scheduling with state wrestling, so Carter Goc is competing as a team alternate.

“We placed in first for the team rounds, and they took the top two teams (competing) to state,” said Joni Ebel, MATHCOUNTS coach and seventh-grade CMS math instructor. “And in Tanner’s situation, since he competed as an individual, they take the top four (performing individuals) that are not already on a team, and they form a four-person team from all the schools to send a team to state."

During the competition, students were asked to complete several challenges, including a target test round, sprint round, team round and countdown round.

The sprint and target rounds are challenges designed for students to gain points for themselves and for their given teams. The team round consists of members of the team working together to answer a series of 10 questions in approximately 40-50 minutes; and the countdown round is a fast-paced, oral competition where opponents compete head-to-head to see who can solve the problems first.

At the end of the competition, team and individual point tallies were counted and team and individual winners were announced.

Ebel said students had a good time competing. Although spending a Saturday crunching numbers might not sound the most thrilling, the students got a kick out of it, Ebel noted.

“When we took a lunch break they were all talking about how they were doing and quite a few of them said they felt like they knew a lot of the answers,” Ebel said.

Ebel said she believes an extracurricular activity like MATHCOUNTS really does pay off down the road for students.

“In the four years I’ve done this, I’ve seen kids in high school who say they want to go on to be engineers,” Ebel said. “I think it helps them to get out there and see what’s available for them with all the STEM careers out there.”

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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