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Neyan Sezhian, at left, and Erik Wu coordinated all aspects of the James Clemens Math Tournament on March 30 for middle-school students in North Alabama. CONTRIBUTED

Students Neyan Sezhian, Erik Wu originate James Clemens Math Tournament

MADISON – With avid interest in mathematics, students Neyan Sezhian and Erik Wu couldn’t accept the status quo. They took positive action that will benefit many students in North Alabama.

“Most middle-school mathematics tournaments are located more than 1.5 hours away, mostly in Birmingham, with almost no activity locally,” Sezhian said. “The James Clemens Mathematics Tournament was founded to increase interest for competition mathematics in the district.”

“Around four months into tournament planning, we approached Dr. Kristin Hartland to serve as our faculty sponsor, who guided us through various logistical steps required to successfully implement our tournament,” Neyan said.

“Erik and Neyan were truly the backbone to this amazing tournament,” Hartland said.

The James Clemens Math Tournament was held on March 30. “Middle-school students from emailed schools in North Alabama that were currently enrolled in their respective math team programs were all eligible to participate in this tournament,” Neyan said.

About 150 students from four schools participated in the tournament. Competition levels ranged in grades 6-8.

After registration from 8:30 a.m. in James Clemens Landing, contestants waited in the cafeteria before proceeding to assigned classrooms for written tests. The team round at 11:45 a.m. ran for one hour. The tournament ended with an awards ceremony.

For question writing, Sezhian and Wu relied largely on personal experience from past mathematics tournaments, along with knowledge of competition mathematics. They wrote all questions, involving multiple revisions.

In fundraising, Sezhian and Wu received direct financial sponsorships from restaurants, like John Smith’s Subs and Marco’s Pizza. “PPG offered assistance through a grant application program. Taco Mama offered to cater lunch for tournament volunteers from James Clemens,” Hartland said.

“As tournament sponsor, I felt that Erik and Neyan went above and beyond to ensure this tournament was a success,” Hartland said. “I was responsible for the paperwork, but Erik and Neyan did absolutely everything else including fundraising, writing grants, making copies, creating answer documents, recruiting volunteers, writing numerous emails, ordering medals and trophies and more.”

“The middle-school advisors were all so grateful for having the opportunity to attend a local tournament, and the kids were eager to discover the solutions to the problems after each round,” Wu said.

Originally, the tournament was scheduled for Jan. 20; however, the ice storm forced Sezhian and Wu to find another available Saturday open to a majority of students, Hartland said. Unfortunately, several schools who accepted Jan. 20 could not attend on March 30, resulting in 100-plus less students than anticipated.

“This ultimately did not affect the excitement of the tournament,” Hartland said.

“I’m always in awe of the many students who take on leadership roles serving our district, like Erik Wu and Neyan Sezhian,” Dr. Ed Nichols, Madison City Schools Superintendent, said. “These two juniors from James Clemens . . . ran a district math tournament for middle-schoolers . . . Their dedication was instrumental in shaping this initiative.”

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