Park City team wins statewide math competition
‘There’s a certain level of skill that these winners are born with’
The questions were complicated but the result was simple: Three Park City High School students are state champion mathematicians.
A team consisting of Daniel Tabin, Cole Lee and Max Askmo, seniors at Park City High School, recently found out they won the annual 12th-grade level of the State Math Contest in division 3A, which comprises teams from schools around the state similar in size to PCHS. The competition was held in March, but the results were announced earlier this month.
Last year, the team finished first among 11th-graders. Melissa Perry, a PCHS math teacher, said winning in back-to-back years is particularly impressive given the difficulty of the competition, whose test is challenging enough to strain the minds of even teachers and almost impossible for high school students to get 100 percent correct.
Given the success Tabin, Lee and Askmo have had in the competition the last two years, it’s clear to Perry that they are gifted in ways that most people aren’t.
“There’s a certain level of skill that these winners are born with,” she said. “They have a natural problem-solving ability. We can take them as far as we can throughout their high school career, but there’s something that’s inside them that they’re determined to solve problems and not give up when things get tricky.”
For their part, the students didn’t enter the competition just to win. They say they’re passionate about math and enjoy taking on a challenge that pushes them beyond their intellectual comfort zones. Nonetheless, being able to say they’re ending their high school careers as consecutive math champs has a certain ring to it.
“It feels nice just to know that we’re at the top of the ladder in terms of math and being able to apply it in a test like this,” Lee said. “It seems like everyone was (gunning) for us, and it was refreshing to remind myself that we are at this high level when it comes to math.”
Lars Nordfelt, another math teacher, said it’s been a pleasure to teach Tabin, Askmo and Lee, and he’s not surprised to see them have success in a statewide competition. Describing them, he said one of their strongest traits is intellectual curiosity, which pushes them to dig deeper, into areas that even he hasn’t thought about.
“It makes it all worth it,” he said. “There are some things with teaching that are difficult or challenging. But to see these students — and even other students who maybe aren’t as talented but who can learn to love math — take off, it’s great to witness.”
Though their high school careers are ending, the students are likely to continue exploring math. While Perry joked they should use their smarts to solve world peace, all three said they will pursue math in some form in college.
Tabin, for one, can’t imagine school without a heavy dose of it.
“It helps explain the world,” he said. “Like, once you take calculus, you’ll look at driving differently because you’ll feel the acceleration and be like, ‘Whoa, there it is.’ It expands your horizons and just connects things, and I find it really fascinating.”
Perry is hopeful younger students will continue the legacy the students are leaving. PCHS also had other teams of 10th- and 11th-graders perform well at the competition, though they ultimately came up short. Perry is already encouraging them to start preparing for next year’s contest to keep the school’s string of victories alive.
“We’ve told some people they’ll have to step it up for next year because we’re losing our winning team,” she said.