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From The Morning Call -- June 19, 2005

Paul Carpenter Paul Carpenter

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Stunning triumph by math students gets short shrift


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''Consider an analog clock with an hour and a minute hand but no numerals. At Time T a.m., a mirror image of the clock shows a time X a.m. that is 5 hours and 28 minutes later than T. Compute T in terms of hours and minutes.''

(The answer: 3:16 a.m.)

That was one of only a few questions I could even understand, much less solve, in an annual high school team competition held by the American Regions Mathematics League.

The 91 U.S. and four Asian math teams competed simultaneously June 4 at the University of Iowa, San Jose State and Penn State. The top winner was the Lehigh Valley team, with students from nine high schools in eastern Pennsylvania and one in New Jersey.

I did not know about that stunning triumph because I missed a small story that ran June 8 in The Morning Call. It was in the back pages of the local section — in only certain editions of the paper, at that. I learned of it only via an angry letter from Terry Delph of Coopersburg, a Lehigh University engineering professor.

''They [the Lehigh Valley team] are the national math champs, defeating teams from all over the nation, including several from elite private schools,'' Delph's letter said.

''By rights, this kind of achievement should have been front-page news,'' he wrote. ''However, it was buried in the back pages of the local section. … I'll leave you to imagine the coverage that a comparable sports performance would have received.''

As it happens, The Morning Call did have a big splash about a sports event that day. An Emmaus High School soccer team won a state semifinal game — and the story was promoted on the front page with a color photograph.

I asked Morning Call Assistant Managing Editor Michael Miorelli about the math story.

''We screwed up. It should have gotten better play,'' he replied. (Can you picture a politician being that candid?)

Anyway, the Lehigh Valley team is coached by Don Davis, a math professor at Lehigh.

''It is extremely rare, I think, for a Lehigh Valley team to win a national championship in anything,'' he said.

I decided to consult the world's foremost math authority — my brother, Neal, who is a math teacher in California. I recited the clock question and told him how to find the other questions on the Internet.

A half-hour later, after Neal reviewed all the questions, we talked again. ''Very interesting questions,'' he said. ''The one you mentioned is relatively easy. Some of the other ones are hard. As soon as we hang up, I'm going to go back and think about them some more.''

Coming from my brother, that admission of a challenge sounded like some dialogue from ''Good Will Hunting.''

Neal is familiar with ARML contests. ''Our kids compete in that,'' he said. ''On awards day it was a big deal … that our eighth-graders won the competition for this region, which is a half-dozen counties.''

I told him the Lehigh Valley math team won the entire national competition, but the story ran on the back pages.

''That's nuts!'' Neal exploded in anger over The Morning Call's priorities. I told him I planned a column about it.

''I'd really give 'em hell,'' he said. ''Raise a stink. See if you can get fired or something.''

Then Neal had one additional thought. He said the ARML contests have two divisions at the high school level, A and B.


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