You have athletes and you have mathletes. Heritage Middle School (HMS) is home to a group of students – true mathletes – who have demonstrated their skills with numbers and equations by taking first place in the regional MATHCOUNTS competition held on Feb. 9 at Georgia Power Company’s headquarters in Floyd County.

The competition was sponsored by the Northwest Chapter of the Georgia Society of Professional Engineers.

"I can say that the MATHCOUNTS competition is by far the most challenging one we participate in," says HMS teacher and math coach Charlene Higgins. "To quote Forrest Gump, these math competitions are ‘like a box of chocolates – you never know what you are going to get.’"

Students can compete in MATHCOUNTS as teams and as individuals. Each competition has four rounds.

Round One: No calculators, 30 problems, 40 minutes. That’s about 80 seconds per problem.

Round Two: Calculators allowed, four pairs of problems, six minutes per pair. A little twist to throw the mathletes off.

Round Three: Teams only. Each four-member team is presented with 10 problems and given 20 minutes to work together to solve them. Calculators allowed.

Round Four: The heat is on. Students are presented with one problem after another and have a maximum of 45 seconds to solve each.

"There are times," says Higgins, "students come out of the written exams looking gloomy, with their hands up, and you just have to build them back up before the other rounds. If they found the questions difficult, so did everyone else."

The HMS team, consisting of students Justus Smith, Parker Taylor, Erin Lin and Eli Tollett, passed by competitors from schools in Lafayette, Rome, Dalton, and Dade County and qualified to go to the next level of competition. HMS student Parker Hayen participated as an individual and will also compete at the next level.

Justus Smith says he likes math because he sees how useful it is in life. Eli Tollett says the competition was "Fridge Worthy." Higgins says that when her students do exceptionally good work, she stamps it "Fridge Worthy" – worth hanging on the refrigerator. She even has a classroom cabinet made to look like a refrigerator so they can post their work there.

The next step for HMS is the MATHCOUNTS state competition in March. "State level competitions are tough," says Higgins. "The competitors there are the top 15% for all the middle school students in the state." Stay tuned.

To learn more about MATHCOUNTS, visit mathcounts.org.