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MathCounts Countdown Round

MathCounts competitors Aiden Morgan, left, of Billings and Wyatt Keyes of Missoula go head to head solving a high-level math problem during the annual MathCounts state competition at the Montana Tech Student Union Building Thursday afternoon. Morgan, an eighth-grader at Castle Rock Middle School in Billings, finished second overall to qualify for nationals on a four-student state team.

The brainiest Montana kids from around the state butted heads, mathematically speaking, on Thursday at Montana Tech.

While the state basketball tournaments played across town, 83 middle-school students from 25 schools squared off in the 34th annual MathCounts competition.

That’s a lot of brain power in the room – eventually whittled down to 10 students going head-to-head – in front of a rapt audience of about 200 in the fast-paced Countdown Round.

“I think we did pretty good. It’s tough, though,” said Esmie Hurd, a Sacajawea Middle School 8th grader from Bozeman and her team’s captain. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 the most difficult, she ranked their earlier team-round questions “an 8 or 9.”

Hurd and teammates Logan Pailthorpe, Emma Baumgardner and Breck Johnson waited patiently in the lobby as individual finalists went head-to-head in the Copper Lounge, crammed to the rafters with participants, parents and teachers. Their team did not place in the top seven in the team category.

The top four individual scorers comprise the winning team that will represent Montana at National MathCounts Competition in Orlando, Florida, on May 14. They are:

Ethan Wynia of Riverside Middle School, Aidan Morgan of Castle Rock Middle School, Joel Demars of Will James Middle School – all of Billings – and Edward Guthrie of Guthrie Academy in Belgrade. They placed first-to-fourth, in that order.

Math teacher Kari Boucher of Washington Middle School in Missoula will accompany the team to nationals. Coach of the eventual winning team in a separate category, she was among the throngs watching the intense two-person-at-a-time Countdown Round.

“This competition undoubtedly features the brightest middle school students in our state,” said Dan Munson, event coordinator and an engineering manager for NorthWestern Energy, a major sponsor. Volunteer Montana Society of Engineers, students and professionals run the competition.

High-level problems posted on a slide projector included mind-bending probability, statistics, linear algebra and polynomial questions.

Like “Jeopardy” fans, the audience hung on to every question and cheered every correct answer.

Competitors who progressed through three rounds of written tests qualified for the elimination round, which ultimately decided the top final four.

Students began by winning their local school competition to advance to regionals, said Munson.

Then, in February, 513 students from 62 middle schools competed at regionals. The top placers qualified for state.

The National Society of Professional Engineers sponsor nationals, an all-expenses-paid trip for state victors. The purpose of MathCounts is to interest 6th, 7th and 8th graders in technology-related careers.

To check your smarts with a problem of the week, see sample questions at

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