For Wayzata math team, a family affairby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
High school sports fans across Minnesota have a big weekend coming up - the boys' hockey championships will be played.
But sports teams aren't the only ones winning titles this week. The high school math league held its state tournament Monday at South St. Paul High School.
Wayzata was the odds-on favorite going into the event... Thanks in part to the team's own numerical anomaly.
St. Paul, Minn. — As math teams go in Minnesota, Wayzata High is a powerhouse. They scored more points (581) than any other team during the regular season. In fact, the six highest-scoring students in all of Minnesota were from Wayzata.
And it was that showing that allowed Wayzata to bring 15 students to Monday's state meet -- most teams bring eight or nine. But while bringing 15 students to state is rare, Wayzata had something even rarer: Three teammates with the same parents.
- Kelley Chen, sophomore, age 14.
- Denise Chen, junior, age 15.
- Minna Chen, senior, age 17.
Wayzata also has a set of two brothers - the Lees - and a brother and sister combo - the Singh's. But 'Chen cubed' is something teacher Tom Kilkelly hasn't seen in his 20-plus years of coaching.
"I can think of a couple two's but not three's," he said during Monday's meet. "And three girls, that's the other amazing thing. Fortunately or unfortunately, it seems the guys rise to the top sometimes competitively, but that's changing."
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You need a lot of paths to cross for three siblings to be on a state math team: They all have to be in high school; they all have to like math enough to do it when, you know, they don't have to. And in the case of the Chens, all three were among the 50 highest-scoring individuals in all of Minnesota during the regular season.
Kilkelly says he thinks there has to be a sibling rivalry at work: "Each one of them seems to try to out-do the other sister."
But Minna Chen disagrees: "You'd think that there'd be a lot of competition, but there's not. We get along pretty well. I guess we were just raised in a household where both parents are really good at math and science. So, it's just easy to come home and ask for help."
The state meet includes a math bowl, where ten top scorers do math on stage for a big audience - that's usually the event that gets the most media attention.
But the math bowl doesn't count towards the state championship. For that, there are five rounds of tests: Four where students answers questions on their own; the fifth, where teams work together.
So while Minna was off figuring out the coordinates of C - if CB is perpendicular to OB and the tangent of angle BOC is one half, sisters Denise and Kelley were taking a break in the cafeteria.
The youngest, Kelley, says watching her sisters growing up did make her want to also be on the math team -- though it helped she likes math, too. And she seems to have her sisters figured out.
"Denise is naturally smart, she doesn't really need to work that hard," noted Kelley. "But she's naturally smart. And Minna works hard, so she's also really smart because she works to do well."
But this isn't just the story of three sisters taking up three spots on a team. Wayzata won Monday's state championship, thanks in large part to the Chens. Especially Minna, who was competing in her final high school state math meet.
Minna scored more points (38) than any other student competing yesterday from any team, except one. She actually got the same number of points as that other one, But a tie-breaker gave Martin Camacho, of Central High School, the individual state championship.
Wayzata, as a team, won its fifth state championship in seven years. Coach Tom Kilkelly shies away from credit. He says it's the kids taking the tests -- he just bakes brownies and pizza from time to time.
"Most of these kids probably wouldn't be involved in another activity in this school, but this is the one they focus in on," he said. "I make it be fun - they enjoy coming to practice."
And Wayzata shows no signs of slowing down. There will still be two Chen sisters next year, and given Minna's strong second place among individuals this year - Denise and Kelley sure have something to shoot for.
- Morning Edition, 03/10/2009, 7:35 a.m.