THE TRY-HARDS:Students Ibrahim Sufi, Harrison Good and Charlie Cronenwett’s dedication and genuine love of math create the competition-winning Mathletics power team
During a Mathletics competition you won’t find sophomores Ibrahim Sufi, Harrison Good and Charlie Cronenwett nervously typing every math equation they can think of into their calculators. Sure, they occasionally tap their foot during the competitions, but only when they’ve missed multiple questions. Despite the occasional trig or word problem, the team of sophomores have won against teams of every grade level in all but one competition.
The boys never expect to win, and in times like the last competition, they don’t even understand how they received the first place trophy.
“How did we win?” Cronenwett said. “Seriously? We missed like five questions.”
The boys formed their team freshman year after getting to know each other in the Indian Hills math club. This year, all three members are taking AP Calculus BC — a class normally taken by seniors at East.
Although their focus falls much more on the “math” part of the competition than many other teams who compete for extra credit, the team enjoys the competitions outside of just the math. Their favorite memory so far is last year’s invitational, when they got to eat as much free pizza as they wanted and placed first.
Their lighthearted approach means they often go into competitions without preparing — they just hope that at least one of them will be able to find a solution to the problem.
“We basically just yell for the first 30 seconds,” Cronenwett said. “We just talk out a bunch of ideas until something seems like a good way of going.”
The team knows that it’s hard to get every question right — their record is 11 out of 12 correct — but between the three members, chances are one of them understands the problem.
“During a competition, my first thought is,‘I hope Charlie knows this’,” Sufi said. “That’s how it works — we kind of just hope that someone knows it.”
Even though they’ve never reached 100 percent accuracy, the team is in need of a challenge outside of a Shawnee Mission school cafeteria, and they are currently trying to get the school to register for the AMC 12 — a 25-question, 75-minute multiple-choice test competition. It’s a step up from the three-minute-long factoring and quadratic formula problems that challenge students at Mathletics.
“The first 15 questions are doable,” Cronenwett said. “The last ten require three very obtuse pieces of insight.”
And if they do well enough on the test — there’s another. This one is three hours and 15 questions.
“Tests aren’t fun,” Cronenwett said. “But hard problems are fun.”
The team doesn’t compete in Mathletics just for extra credit — although that is a perk. They want to test their knowledge of math and learn how to do different kinds of problems. After a competition last year, Cronenwett took the questions home to solve the ones he couldn’t figure out in the competition.
“They recycle them anyway,” Cronenwett said.
THE JUST-FOR-FUNS: Students James Schipfer, Tate Nicholson and Emerson Bihuniak take a less caring approach to Mathletics and focus more on the “extra credit”
Sophomores James Schipfer and Tate Nicholson and freshman Emerson Bihuniak were almost late to the last Mathletics competition because they were getting Sonic. But they decided to leave their hopes of mozzarella sticks behind so that they could check in by 3:30 on the dot — if they didn’t they wouldn’t receive the points of extra credit they needed to up their math grade.
Like many other East students, the team competed in Mathletics to earn extra credit in their math class. Not all extra credit points are created equal — Nicholson and Bihuniak both earn three points in the test category for attending the competition for their Honors Algebra 2 class, while Schipfer only earns 10 points in the homework category in Honors Precalc. However, any chance of extra credit gets all members of the team — along with many of their classmates — to flock to any Shawnee Mission High School after school to earn any points back they can get.
“I joined for extra credit,” Nicholson said. “I got a grade I didn’t want on one of my math tests and I was like,‘Ok, yeah I need some extra points’.”
The amount of extra credit doesn’t depend upon how well teams perform, so all Nicholson, Schipfer and Bihuniak really need to do is show up by 3:30 p.m. and sign their names on the answer sheet.
The team sits together with their friends on other East teams, often violating the two-team-per-table rule. All members of Nicholson’s team usually decide to just guess on the problems.
According to Schipfer, the team had a pattern for almost every problem: they’d try for the first minute, guess, then spend the rest of the time on the clock arguing over whose guess was right.
“We kind of tried at the beginning,” Nicholson said. “But then we realized we don’t know what we’re doing. Half of the questions I had no clue where to start.”
Bihuniak adopted a strategy called the X Factor — he would put the variable “x” next to random numbers and call it the answer. Which, according to Nicholson, worked once, but the other team members didn’t listen.
The team finds a way to make math fun while getting extra credit — even if they come home with Sonic instead of trophies.
“After the competition, we just kind of observed how high the stack of wrong answers [was],” Schipfer said. “It was pretty tall.”