A former Seymour resident recently coached a team of four students to the national title in a middle school math competition.
Trent Tormoehlen led the four Hoosier middle-schoolers during the Raytheon MATHCOUNTS National Competition this month in Boston.
“He’s a rising star as far as coaches go,” said Bob Fischer, Tormoehlen’s assistant coach. “It’s great seeing him lead Indiana.”
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Tormoehlen, who graduated from Seymour High School in 1998, traces his love of math and coaching to sixth grade and longtime Seymour Middle School teacher and MATHCOUNTS coach Wayne Huddleston.
MATHCOUNTS is a nonprofit organization that strives to engage middle school students of all ability and interest levels in fun, challenging math programs to expand their academic and professional opportunities.
Historically, Indiana has been successful at the competition — the state has had three of the past six individual national champions, and this year’s team title is the state’s second. The first was in 1995.
That was a year after Tormoehlen, who is now a teacher at Sycamore School in Indianapolis, competed for Indiana in the national MATHCOUNTS competition, representing Seymour Middle School.
“Seymour has a very strong history in MATHCOUNTS dating back to the late ’80s and early ’90s and is one of the better all-time programs in Indiana,” he said.
Featured on ESPN3, this year’s contest featured 56 teams and 224 competitors from across the nation. The teams are made up of the top four students in each state determined by state MATHCOUNTS events.
Indiana’s team members were Alex Gu, a student of Tormoehlen’s at Sycamore School, Nathan Hu of West Lafayette and Carmel Middle School students Joey Heerens and Kevin Liu.
The contest has two rounds — one written and another called countdown. The countdown round is a fast-paced, “Jeopardy”-like round between the top 12 individual scorers.
“The speed with which they solve the problems is incredible. It has no impact on the team round, but the winner is considered the national champion,” Tormoehlen said.
Liu won the countdown round, making him the national MATHCOUNTS champion and earning him a $20,000 scholarship. Each team member earned a $2,000 scholarship for winning the national title and a free trip to Space Camp.
The written portion featured three parts: The Sprint Round, which contains 30 questions that must be answered in 40 minutes with no calculator; the Target Round, which is four sets of two questions with six minutes per set using a calculator; and the third part is where the team works together answering 10 questions in 20 minutes.
Each contestant receives an individual score along with the team score.
The Indiana team scored 62.5, one of the highest scores of all time. The individual results were: Gu, third place with a score of 45; Liu, seventh place with a score of 42; Hu, eighth place with a score of 42; and Heerens, 14th with a score of 41.
“It is a very intense competition that is usually dominated by the big states and the states with lots of high-tech industry (Texas, California, Massachusetts, Washington — think Microsoft — are the big four),” Tormoehlen said. “It is rare for a team to have more than one competitor in the top 12.”
To prepare for the competition, students spend many hours studying.
Tormoehlen’s team practiced about twice a week for about three hours. The students then worked significantly more than that on their own and had been preparing for the competition for the past two to three years.
Tormoehlen said it’s hard to describe how amazing each one of the students is at math and how much time they put into it.
“Maybe the best way to say it is I have a master’s degree in math and have been teaching for 10 years, and they know how to do problems I don’t know how to do,” Tormoehlen said.
Huddleston was Tormoehlen’s inspiration as a student and as a teacher.
As a sixth-grader, Huddleston persuaded the administration to allow Tormoehlen and a classmate, who were both sixth-graders, to take Algebra 1, which is a class normally reserved for eighth-graders.
“We were two years ahead of our classmates,” he said.
Since Tormoehlen couldn’t go any further with his math studies until he entered high school, he spent much of his time in seventh- and eighth-grade helping others in the algebra class and getting involved in the competitions.
“At that time, I realized I loved helping other people learn math,” he said.
Tormoehlen said one of the reasons Indiana has been successful in the national competition is Fischer, whom he also considers a mentor.
“He is an incredible educator, and his teams or our team has won the state competition most years,” Tormoehlen said of Fischer.
Fischer, who is a teacher at Honey Creek Middle School in Vigo County, said pretty much the same thing about Tormoehlen.
He said Tormoehlen is a successful coach because of his roots in MATHCOUNTS, making him better prepared for what’s involved there.
“He writes original problems and finds them for the level of national competition,” Fischer said.
He said Tormoehlen has a way of explaining math to all levels of kids who are on a higher level of learning.
“He’s developed into a premier, national-leading coach,” Fischer said.
Tormoehlen still has ties to Jackson County. His brothers and parents, Terrye and Mark Davidson and Joe and Robin Tormoehlen, all live in Seymour.
He lives on the south side of Indianapolis with his wife, Laura, and their 3-year-old son, Logan.
Link to the competition on ESPN3: espn.go.com/watchespn/index/_/id/2503411/raytheon-mathcounts-national-competition
For information about MATHCOUNTS, visit mathcounts.org.
- Coached four middle-schoolers to he Raytheon MATHCOUNTS National Competition title.
- A former Seymour resident who now lives in Indianapolis.
- A teacher at Sycamore School in Indianapolis, an independent school focusing on gifted and talented students.
- Teaches upper-level math classes (geometry, Algebra 2, independent study pre-calculus), some computer science, coaches the math team and then runs and teaches for the Sycamore Summer Academy.
- Attended University of Evansville and then received a master’s degree in pure mathematics from Indiana University.
- Spent two years teaching at Lawrence North High School before getting his master’s degree. Spent one year at Franklin Community High School before teaching at Sycamore.