When he was elected Mundelein's mayor last April, one of Steve Lentz's goals was to bring the community together in new ways.
Sure, Mundelein has outdoor concerts in the summertime, car shows and Independence Day fireworks. But Lentz was after something different. Something unusual.
And, as it turns, out, something mathematical.
Inspired by a similar event in Kentucky, Lentz will host the first Mayor's Cup Math Challenge this Sunday at Mundelein High School.
More than 100 students are set to participate for cash awards and trophies.
Lentz, who works for a Libertyville software company, thought a math contest would inspire kids to compete and bring attention to the growing educational focus on science, technology, engineering and math.
"I think we need a rallying cry in our country for more engineers," Lentz said. "The future innovation for our country is going to be built on math in some degree."
The competition has attracted kids who attend classes in Mundelein Elementary District 75, Diamond Lake Elementary District 76, Fremont Elementary District 79, Mundelein High School District 120 and Carmel Catholic High School.
They don't have to live in Mundelein to compete.
Students who live within Mundelein High School's boundaries but attend private schools elsewhere were invited to participate, too.
No other Lake County community offers such a competition, Lentz said.
He came up with the idea after reading online about a popular, multidiscipline academic challenge in Louisville.
"I thought, 'Well, that sounds like a good thing. I'll just take a slice of that,'" Lentz said.
Mundelein's contest is split into three age divisions:
• Middle school, for sixth- through eighth-graders.
• Junior varsity, for high school freshmen and sophomores.
• Varsity, for high school juniors and seniors.
Mundelein District 75's Sandburg Middle School is sending 25 students to the competition.
"The math contest is a great event to engage students and their families in the study and excitement of mathematics," Principal Mark Pilut said in an email. "So many people have what I call a math phobia. The Mayor's Math Challenge is a great way to overcome a student's phobia and just have fun with math."
The first test will begin about 1 p.m. Sunday. Individual and team exams are scheduled.
Nearly $4,000 in cash awards will be split among the top three winners in each category. The prize money was donated by Mundelein-area businesses including McDonald's, Garden Fresh and Northside Bank, as well as by a few individual supporters.
Mundelein Trustee Ed Sullivan is one of the donors. He called the competition an opportunity for kids to be recognized for their academic achievements.
"I applaud the efforts of the mayor," Sullivan said.
Carmel Catholic High School students are excited about the event, math teacher Charlotte Pavelka said. Eighteen Carmel students are set to compete, including six from the school's Mu Alpha Theta math honor society, she said.
Lentz said he was "very surprised" by the high interest in the competition. Kids respond well to competition, he said.
"When you make them compete for something, that lights a fire under them," he said.
Lentz hopes the winners of the cash prizes will use the money to buy laptop or tablet computers or other equipment they need for school.
Trophies will be awarded, too. Additionally, all participants will receive commemorative certificates signed by Lentz and gift cards to a local fast-food restaurant.