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Sameer Colbert

Sameer Colbert, 14, from Discovery Middle School in Fargo, reacts after winning the countdown round portion of the MathCounts state competition in Bismarck on Monday. 

North Dakota middle school students with a hankering for mathematics got their chance to compete Monday in Bismarck.

The annual MathCounts state competition was held all day Monday, and included three rounds for students to rack up the most points for each correct answer.

The competition heated up after the first round Monday morning in which students were given 30 questions and 40 minutes to answer each one. The second round consisted of 16 questions, six minutes for each pair.

The questions covered word problems, diagrams, statistics, geometry and more. The goal of the event is to not only promote science, technology, engineering and math subjects among students, but also to offer competition, said Brad Kurle, assistant state MathCounts coordinator.

"I think there's always a push to do more things for academic achievement, because there's so much that's out there for sports," said Kurle, an electrical engineer at Western Area Power Administration.

The event also aims to help students become better at problem solving, not just in math but also for real-world issues, Kurle said.

MathCounts is open to all sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students. Participating schools administer tests to determine which students make their teams. From there, a competition is held in 10 regions spanning the state, and 16 students from each region advance to the state competition.

Due to a blast of snowy weather on Monday, only 89 students attended the state competition at the Ramkota Hotel and Conference Center in Bismarck. The top four students who scored highest on Monday will move on to the national MathCounts competition held May 12-15 in Washington, D.C.

The final round on Monday consisted of a countdown round among the eight highest scoring participants, who were paired to rival each other in an oral competition.

Nolan Severance, 13, took first place in Monday's competition. This is his second year participating in MathCounts and also his second year going to nationals.

"(I was) excited. I was also very curious to see who would make the countdown round and the national (state) team," he said, not indicating he was nervous for the competition on Monday.

His parents, Nicole and Clint Severance, started a math club at his school to get more students involved in competitive math, Nicole Severance said.

Last year, Nolan Severance made it to the top 180 group at nationals. This year, he hopes to make it in the top 100.

Linda Kaiser is a sixth-grade math teacher at Horizon Middle School in Bismarck. She's taught for 28 years but has only been coaching in MathCounts for two years. This year, the Horizon Middle School team took first place in the team round.

"I think (the event) really brings to the forefront the competitiveness of math. I think the students that do this, they have such a passion and a drive that it's just kind of their niche," she said. "The weather wasn't going to stop the kids that really wanted to compete today."

Her team started preparing in November for the state competition. The members met weekly and went over problems the national MathCounts organization provided in a practice guide.

MathCounts brings like-minded students together, in addition to fostering skills in math and similar fields.

"Truly, though, these kids are just naturally gifted. It just comes easy to them; they see things far faster than I can, sometimes," she said.

The state team that will now proceed to the national MathCounts competition includes: Nolan Severance, Northern Cass; Rick Peng, Discover Middle School, Fargo; Alex Rud, Ben Franklin Middle School, Fargo; and Louie Rue, Simle Middle School, Bismarck.

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or


Education and Health Reporter