Mundelein math challenge doubles in participation, prizes
About 170 students in 18 teams competed for $8,000 in cash prizes Sunday in Mundelein's second annual Mayor's Cup Math Challenge at Mundelein High School.
Students from Fremont, West Oak, Carl Sandburg and Mechanics Grove middle schools and Mundelein and Carmel high schools participated for a chance to place among the top 10 individual winners in three divisions -- middle school (sixth through eighth grade), junior varsity (ninth and 10th grades), and varsity (11th and 12th grades). Each division's teams also compete for a "traveling" trophy for their school. This year, even some fifth graders made it on to middle school teams.
"Participation has almost doubled (from the previous year)," Mundelein Mayor Steve Lentz said. "There's just a huge need in our country for more math and science students to excel and pursue that in a career. And this is a way of the community supporting them in their efforts. Anything remotely technical will require a good basis of math, and we want to foster that idea in our community's education."
Lentz said the cash scholarships this year also have doubled with more community sponsors coming on board. The winner of the varsity contest got to take home a $1,000 prize.
"That's where money talks," Lentz said. "STEM (science, technology, engineering and math education) ... that's big and our companies in town have caught on to that. Since mathematics proficiency is critical to our nation's future technical success, I want the village of Mundelein to be a leader in promoting mathematics, specifically, and academic excellence, in general."
Participants also will receive a commemorative certificate signed by the mayor and a gift card compliments of the Mundelein McDonald's.
Some students participated for the sheer joy of solving math problems.
"I just find it fun," said Tommy Lacher, 16, a sophomore at Carmel Catholic High School. "There's always new challenges that you have to work through."
For others, the cash prize was a big part of the equation.
"I'm trying to buy a new Wii (console) because my other Wii doesn't work anymore," said Max Rafalson, 13, of Hawthorn Woods, a seventh grader at Fremont Middle School in Mundelein School District 79.
Sunday's big winners were: Fremont's Zuhair Ali-Khan in the middle school competition; Carmel's Jason Hajduk and Theresa Thiel, tied in the junior varsity category; and Mundelein's Anthony Ko won the varsity competition.
Mundelein High School District 120 Superintendent Kevin Myers said the best part about the challenge is bringing the community together to support education.
Mundelein High School is building a new STEM education wing with additional 25 classrooms, and two labs for STEM and Project Lead the Way set to open in August 2016.
"We have the STEM initiative going ... if this can put more emphasis on that, it's a good thing for our students and our community," Myers said. "For us to remain competitive as a local economy and a rural economy, we need to have more students excelling in STEM."