by Mike Knaak
“It’s not like baseball practice,” a team member piped up when a visitor arrived at the Math League team’s practice recently.
So true. With calculators and papers spread in front of them, team members worked quietly alone or in small groups solving algebra, geometry and calculus problems.
Sartell High School’s Math League team will compete in the state tournament via Zoom Monday, March 15. In the tournament, 38 teams will tackle a series of problems of varying difficulty.
On a practice sheet, try this easy question “intended to be a quickie:” Calculate the surface area of a cylinder the height of 11 and a radius of 5.
If you nailed that one, try this: “A triangular sail for a ship needs to be reduced in area by 36 percent. By what percentage should the height and the base of sail be reduced if the sail needs to maintain its original proportion?” The instructions say the question should be answered “very quickly.”
Math competition “trains the mind in all sorts of ways,” team member David Zhang said. “It combines English and logic that can be applied to everything.”
Alice Colatrella, who has been on the team for four years, said membership helps with school math classes, but she also likes connecting with people on the team. “You don’t have to be a genius to do it,” Colatrella said.
When the team gets a set of questions, individual members know which ones they want to work on and usually split them up. When one person solves the problem, another team member checks the work.
Zhang also will compete in an individual tournament for the top 50 students in the state. He is ranked No. 15 and one of a few non-metro students in the contest. Working alone, he said, there’s a bigger chance of making a mistake because there’s nobody to check the work.
In addition to working practice problems, the two advised eating well and getting enough sleep before the tournament. But Colatrella said “we have cookies.”
She’s thinking of a career in chemical engineering, and Zhang is considering math or computer science.
Zhang, who has been in Math League since seventh grade, emphasized the value of participation.
“Math can be done anywhere,” he said. “Your brain is always thinking. By being in Math League you are training your brain to adapt to all sorts of situations.”
Zhang is the son of Saihua Yu and Shiju Zhang. Colatrella, who earned a perfect ACT score earlier this year, is the daughter of Nicholas Colatrella and Stacy Hinkemeyer-Colatrella.
The team’s advisor is calculus teacher Sarah Hensel.
“David has been one of the top students in the state for several years, and he and Alice have been the leaders of our team, getting things organized for practices, mentoring younger students and performance at the meets,” Hensel said.