Buchholz math team seeks 7th straight national title this week


Published: Saturday, July 20, 2013 at 5:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, July 20, 2013 at 5:42 p.m.

At the final practice before nationals, the students of Buchholz High School’s math team sat steady and alert, hands hovering over the small pieces of paper on their desks. Friday was no different than the past four days, or even the past five weeks: four hours of practice, followed by three hours of homework in the evening.

As the students waited for the OK to begin, Will Frazer, the team’s coach and a math teacher at the high school, hovered between two tables crowded with trophies. This week, the students want to make that collection of trophies even more impressively large.

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, the 47-person math team will leave for San Diego. Starting Monday morning the team will compete for its seventh consecutive national championship against nearly 700 students in the national Mu Alpha Theta championship.

After weeks of training, the kids are itching to compete, Frazer said.

“It’s like that in sports,” he said. “You sit and have practice with your teammates; that’s not near as much fun as just getting out there on game day and going at it.”

Buchholz’s math team, which will be joined by the math team from Eastside High in competition in San Diego, has been the winner of the state Mu Alpha Theta competition since 2005 and the national championship since 2007. The competition is split between three major divisions — Mu (calculus), Alpha (precalculus) and Theta (geometry and algebra II ) — and the Buchholz team has won in each, in addition to winning overall.

“We get a lot of attention for how good we are,” Frazer said.

Keshav Vemuri, an 18-year-old graduating senior, is familiar with the attention.

“I think a lot of schools hate us for winning so many times,” he said. “I think we’re actually motivating other schools to build up their Mu Alpha Theta teams to be more competitive.”

The fact that the team has been winning both state and national competitions has become a kind of joke for the team. At the Friday practice, Frazer wore the team shirt as he controlled the timer while students worked against the clock as a form of practice. The shirt is bright yellow and the text on the back reads: “State Champion 2005 – present” and “National Champion 2007 – present.”

“If somebody beats us, we have to buy a new shirt,” Frazer said. “We don’t want to buy new shirts, so we’ve got to win.”

At the state competition in the spring, Buchholz’s team lost the calculus division by one point. For nationals, the students are aware that although they have a winning streak, the competition still is fierce.

“This is probably the most competition we’ve had this year,” Vemuri said. “But I think we have a really strong chance.”

For Frazer, the challenge that comes from these competitions gives the students something regular school days cannot. He and Ziwei Lu, the team’s second coach, train themselves to make sure their math skills are at a level that will challenge the students.

Early Friday morning, the team will know the results and return home for three weeks of break until school starts — along with another year of training and competitions.

Steve Han, a 17-year-old graduating senior, knows that Buchholz has left its mark, regardless of this year’s results. He recalls the way the school was perceived at his first national competition back in 2010.

“There was a huge storm coming in at Washington, D.C., at the time,” Han said. “When we walked off the bus and there was this huge storm, Mr. Frazer said, ‘Oh, looks like Washington, D.C., knows that Buchholz is here.’ ”

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