Math team rivals John Bapst and Bangor High School will go head to head for the top spot in the state this week, but first they will share a bus to the competition in Augusta.
Bangor High School is the state’s Class A math team champion while John Bapst took the Class B title. When the standings are broken down into points, John Bapst’s team sits above Bangor’s by 45 points.
The April 4 competition is the first state math meet since 2019, and the first statewide high school contest ever for all of the two teams’ members, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic prompted state meets to be canceled altogether. Regional competitions moved online and students competed remotely through Zoom. Taking away that social portion of the competitions caused membership to slide, said Carl Robbins, Bangor High School’s math team coach and a math teacher at the school.
Bangor’s math team boasted about 150 students, but membership dropped to approximately 60 students during the pandemic, he said.
“I didn’t realize how social the competitions are,” Robbins said. “We saw that the draw was the team part of the competition and the interactions they have.”
While most students said they first joined their school’s team to improve their skills, because math is their favorite subject or to get extra credit, nearly everyone said the camaraderie — and the free snacks — are why they stayed.
“For a long time, I was much weaker in math, so the team aspect of going to practice, hanging out with friends, asking questions and learning new tricks has always been my favorite part,” said Jing Russell, a John Bapst junior and the math team captain. “The scores are a bonus.”
“It’s fun working as a group and we get to learn a wide variety of math that you don’t always get just from your classes,” said Evangeline Eastman, a Bangor High School senior.
Both schools compete in the eastern Maine division of the Maine Association of Math Leagues alongside 10 other schools, and the two have a history of being among the top scoring schools in the state.
Last year, John Bapst finished ahead of Bangor by 124 points, but in 2021, Bangor topped John Bapst by 90 points, according to state records.
“We compete at the same meets, and we’ve dominated for many years,” Robbins said. “John Bapst has some individuals on their team who are very good, which is raising our standards.”
This year, Bangor hopes to reclaim its position as the top scoring math team in the state — and the crystal trophy that comes with it — but John Bapst isn’t ready to let go of its title.
“Our goal is to do as well as possible and we’d love to win states, but we’re all happy as long as we beat Bangor’s varsity team,” said Daniel Buck, John Bapst’s math team coach and co-chair of the mathematics department. “If we can keep up with them, we’re happy no matter what happens.”
While the two teams are competitive, students and coaches from both schools agreed there’s no animosity or ill-will between them. In fact, the teams will share a bus to the competition in Augusta, and likely practice together on the way there.
“These kids see each other all the time,” Robbins said. “It’s all very encouraging and people get along. I’m proud two teams from Bangor are doing as well as we are. This is something we’ve been proud of for a long time.”
Math team is also unique, Robbins said, because students receive individual scores based on how many problems they solve, which then add together for the team’s total score. Students can be proud of their individual successes and improvements in addition to working together as a team.
“Someone else doesn’t need to lose for you to win,” Robbins said. “There are none of the negatives that come with a rivalry.”
While the two Bangor schools are neck-in-neck for the top math team score in the state, each credited different things for their success.
Eric Steadman, Bangor’s assistant math coach and a math teacher at the school, credited the school’s rigorous curriculum, which includes an advanced problem-solving class devoted to challenges math teams encounter. The course is designed to broaden the school’s math curriculum while helping students prepare for math competitions.
“We have an excellent math department that trains the students well, and we get results,” Steadman said.
For John Bapst, Buck pointed to the high number of international students, many of whom come from countries with a more robust math and science curriculum, and the school’s advanced placement classes that attract highly motivated students with math and science careers in their futures.
Of John Bapst’s 500 students, approximately 75 are international. Five of the 10 students on the school’s varsity math team are international students, Buck said.
“I’m just happy they’re having a good time,” Buck said. “Them doing something that’s creative and productive while learning things, having fun and feeling good about themselves is a win-win-win-win.”