LUVERNE — Two years ago, the Luverne High School math league team considered itself lucky if it didn't come in last place at a meet.
In a couple of weeks, the team will compete at the state competition. Luverne won both the division and regional titles earlier this year, and is ranked seventh in Class A.
The students give most of the credit for their success to their coach, Aaron Perkins.
Perkins, an LHS physics and chemistry teacher, began working with the math league in 2019. By that point, some of the current team members were already math-leaguers, having been recruited by the promise of snacks and socializing. When Perkins came aboard, team members say he taught them how good they could be, and their focus shifted from sustenance to excellence.
During the regular season, math league participants go to five meets. Each meet has an individual and a team element.
The individual competition includes four tests: algebra, geometry, algebra 2 and pre-calculus/trigonometry. Eight individuals compete on each test, and two of them must be underclassmen. They have 12 minutes to work four math problems — one easy and three difficult. During the team portion, meanwhile, everyone works together on six problems, with a 30-minute time limit.
The students practice by studying the last 20 years' worth of math league competition questions. They do math problems together during their flex time or meet outside of school hours. They've had to operate a little differently this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meeting almost exclusively online.
"We've been pretty much winging it," Perkins said.
Whatever the strategy, it seems to be working.
Perkins doesn't take all the credit for the math league's recent improvement, as he said each of the 10 team members is bright and willing to work hard. It also helps that most of them are upperclassmen, so they've taken more higher-level math classes than they had two years ago.
Learning is a big motivator for the math league. Students admit to often not knowing the answers — "and that's OK," noted senior John Miller. The students don't stress out about not knowing everything. In fact, they like to joke around with each other about how difficult the questions are, and see it as a learning experience.
"It's fun when you get one right," said junior Trista Baustian. "That's the best feeling."
Because it has such a short time constraint, the team has gotten good at making educated guesses and managing its time so it gets as many points as it can. Each individual test has a total of seven points possible, and a score of three or four is considered pretty good, Perkins explained.
The 2020-2021 math league season has been unique in that every single meet has been virtual, and the state competition will be no different. Normally an all-day in-person event, the meet will be hosted via video chat on March 15. In addition to the team event, senior Xavier Carbonneau has also qualified to take part as an individual competitor.
At state competition, the individual event comes in two parts: one that is just like a regular season meet, and then a second round with only the top 10 competitors. This round usually takes place in front of a live audience, but that element has also been waived due to COVID-19.
The team is very excited about making it to the state meet, and hopes do well. Although winning is fun, what students say they like most about math league is the camaraderie they share.