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Troy Howard student places in regional math meet, heads to states

posted Feb 11, 2020, 9:14 AM by Christine Guerette
By Kendra Caruso | Feb 05, 2020

BELFAST — Gabriel “Gabe” Austin, 12, placed second at a regional MATHCOUNTS meet in Fairfield, earning him a seat at the state competition there March 14. It was the eighth-grader’s first time at the event, and he was the only student representing Troy Howard Middle School.

The Belfast native has always had a brain for math, according to his parents, James Austin and Leslie Burnette. He was subtracting candy and contemplating fractions of pizza before elementary school, they said.

Halfway through first grade, Gabe skipped ahead to second grade because his math comprehension quickly matured beyond what was being taught.

He has enjoyed math for as far back as he can remember. And when he is taking a break from his favorite math concepts, like logarithmic functions, he plays video games. He likes that a given math problem will always have the same answer.

“Unlike language arts and social studies, it actually has correct answers that aren’t opinionated by you and your teachers,” Gabe said. “I don’t like having to prove why one thing is better than another when the same assignment was given.”

As a middle-schooler, he decided to enter a stiffer competition than the local math meets he was used to as a member of the school’s math club. He and his parents went into the MATHCOUNTS competition with reserved enthusiasm.

“I guess my expectation was that, well, this is going to be a lot tougher,” Austin said. “This is not just these few schools.”

Gabe practiced with his parents and a local engineer who helped him prepare for the event. His mother was nervous about how much more difficult the questions were for this competition than his math club meets.

“The practice test for MATHCOUNTS was exponentially harder than anything I’d seen him do personally,” Burnette said.

Gabe did not expect to place in any of the competitions, but when he was called into the top 10, he soon realized that he had won first place in the written competition. That is when he became nervous, he said.

“It was very nerve-racking,” he said. “My heart was beating very fast.”

He finished the competition placing second overall and winning a place in the state competition. His parents are further impressed with the outcome, given that he had no team support or coaching and still managed to beat a kid who went to the national competition last year.

“He went there as a team of one,” Burnette said. “Troy Howard didn’t send a team. They let him compete, or they wanted him to compete just because they knew he liked math. But he didn’t really have a lot of practice or the support of a team.”

Austin is a programmer, and said he thinks that is where Gabe inherited his math ability. And even though he could answer most of the questions, Austin said he could not figure out the answers as fast as many of the students in the competition.

Gabe is already meeting with a tutor to prepare for the state competition. He is nervous about states, but hopes to place high enough to get a paid trip to Orlando, Florida, for the national competition May 9-12, he said.

MATHCOUNTS is a national nonprofit that offers extracurricular activities to middle school students in an effort to encourage math learning, according to its website.

“We believe middle school is a critical juncture when a love of math must be encouraged, and a fear of math must be overcome,” according to its website.

Those who want to cheer Gabe on can join him Saturday, March 14, at 9 a.m. at Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield.