Math skills are not all that I’ve gained from the Math Challenge.
The very first time I competed back in Grade 1, I wished with all my heart to crush everyone else. While waiting for the contest to begin, my teammates and I ignored our competitors and stared at our reviewers.
When Rechilda Villame, vice president of Math Teachers Association of the Philippines (MTAP), called out, “Xavier School–Team 20,” my heart beat faster than usual and the cake I had just eaten somersaulted in my stomach.
While the mechanics were being read, I did breathing exercises. Then I heard, “Question No. 1…” and 15 seconds sped by.
Our team fell into a routine: Listen intently to every question, compute furiously, either holding the numbers in our minds or ripping up the scratch in a frenzy of graphite, submit the answer sheet, then wait for the answer and for our team number to be called.
This portion was particularly excruciating. Teams were listed alphabetically and, being from Xavier, we had to endure most of the suspense. We were also usually seated at the back, a challenge when the sound system was not perfect and 90 sounds like 19. At these times, I’d wish our school was named Ateneo.
Back then, we felt bad when a strong competitor got the correct answer, silently cheered when they missed a point, made high fives when we did well and died inside when we made a mistake. We indulged in finger-pointing and a game of “Whose fault is it?”
Better all around
But seven straight years of Math Challenge have made us better in all ways.
Now as “Xavier School–Team 20” is called, we walk out with hands in the air and smiles on our faces, to the jealousy of other teams with stern trainers. We listen politely to the mechanics, worry-free. We solve rapidly but calmly. With nearly every question, we find something to chuckle at, eliciting questioning looks from other teams. We grin back.
When a strong team gets a point, we applaud in admiration. When we give the right answer to a difficult question, we cheer in much louder, deeper voices than before. And when we make a mistake, each member claims it is his fault. If we win, hooray! If we lose, oh well, let’s not make those mistakes again, and congratulations to the winner.
Whether or not we bag gold, silver or bronze, we emerge happier now. We’ve learned that it’s not about winning or losing. It’s about learning from our mistakes and taking pride in what we do. It’s about being and giving our best, and owning the day.
The best thing about the Math Challenge is the chance to meet people.
Every year I meet MTAP president Sr. Iluminada Coronel, my mother’s college teacher. I meet judges from public and private schools, Department of Education officials and Metrobank branch managers who give speeches and hand out awards. My mother would sometimes be a judge also but, of course, never at our level. Thank you for doing this competition.
I meet the top math students in the country. Competitors have become familiar faces. Thank you for pushing us to become better. Without you, we would be deprived of rivals, and that would be a terrible thing.
I meet canteen owners at contest venues. Thank you for letting me get a bigger pack of Nova during a particularly stressful session. It means the world to me.
Xavier math teachers have become our trainers, drilling us during lunch, a gargantuan but necessary sacrifice on both sides. They accompany us to the contest and take down questions for the next batch. Thank you.
Because of the Saturdays we spend together, my fellow trainees have become my barkada. Ethan Chua and Matthew Gue, who competed with me most often, are my best friends. I cannot imagine life without them.
I remember the proctors: Nice old ladies who are friends of Sister Coronel, or eager student council representatives from the host school. They collect our answer slips every 15, 30 and 60 seconds.
Proctors are the backbone of the Math Challenge. They jump the extra stile to fetch us another sheet of scratch paper before the next question, forgive us the extra second when our pencil breaks and piece together a ripped answer slip en route to the judges’ table.
I chat with proctors in between questions. One senior teacher at Rizal High School remembers me because almost every year she is the proctor for our team. Once, I offered her sweet corn during Round 2 but she politely refused. A true professional!
Another time, a high school boy was trying to prepare for his round. After our level contest was done, I coached him till he got the answers. His profuse thanks made my day.
Once, at the Multiple Intelligence School, I asked a bright-eyed student if she went to proctor training after I saw how she and her schoolmates executed and coordinated well the collection of answer sheets. They never bumped into each other and they presented the sheets to the judges with military precision, all in less than 10 seconds.
I got a chuckling no and a shining comparison to her boyfriend. The medals we got afterwards paled in retrospect.
The author graduated from seventh grade at Xavier School in March. He and his teammates have been consistent medalists in the Math Challenge since first grade.
Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of INQUIRER.net. We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.
Copyright 2012 INQUIRER.net. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate: c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94