Where the math really adds up

Texas seventh-grader wins on math’s biggest stage


Luke Robitaille, the 2017 Raytheon MATHCOUNTS National Champion, answers the final question of the Countdown Round at the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Robitaille, a 13-year-old 7th grader from Euless, Texas was among the 224 U.S. middle-school math students who took part in this year's competition. (credit Damian Strohmeyer Photography)

After months of qualifying rounds and hundreds of practice hours, one question separated Luke Robitaille from a national championship.

"In a barn, 100 chicks sit peacefully in a circle. Suddenly, each chick randomly pecks the chick immediately to its left or right. What is the expected number of un-pecked chicks?"

Without hesitation, he delivered the answer, 25, in a blistering 0.9 seconds to become the 2017 Raytheon MATHCOUNTS National Champion.

"Coming into this year I felt pretty confident," said Robitaille. "This was a very rewarding win since last year I lost 4-3 in the final match."

As national champion, Robitaille will receive the $20,000 Donald G. Weinert College Scholarship and a trip to U.S. Space Camp. The runner-up was seventh-grader Andrew Cai of Missouri City, Texas. Semifinalists included seventh-grader Jack Albright of Hillsborough, California and eighth-grader William Wang of Plainsboro, New Jersey.

Robitaille's victory tour will begin May 18th when he will travel to New York City to appear on Live with Kelly and Ryan, going head-to-head with the hosts in a friendly math challenge.

This year's competition was the 34th overall and the ninth with Raytheon as the title sponsor.

It is also the third national competition to be held in Orlando. Event organizers brought student competitors to the nearby Kennedy Space Center to explore how mathematics has powered some of the nation's greatest innovations.

Students representing all 50 states, Washington, D.C., United States territories and schools that serve the defense and state departments competed at this year’s event.

More than 100,000 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from 5,000 schools take part in annual qualifying rounds across the country. The national competition includes a written round and a game-show style "Countdown Round," where the top 12 students go head-to-head in a race for the correct answers.

But just making it to the national competition is a reward in itself, according to Lou DiGioia, executive director of MATHCOUNTS, who competed in MATHCOUNTS when he was in middle school.

"Hundreds of thousands of kids participate in MATHCOUNTS programs over the course of the year, and 224 get into the national competition," he said. "It's such an incredible achievement. Our goal is to make them feel like the winners they are."

Published On: 05/10/2017
Last Updated: 01/26/2018