Ask a 14-year-old what he aspires to do when he grows up and typical answers might be firefighter, police officer, hip-hop artist or NASCAR driver.
"I'm planning to be an actuary," Nick Dougherty said in response to the question.
Dougherty, a ninth-grade student at Boonsboro High School, has competed in the Hagerstown Chapter MathCounts Competition for three years.
But this year, he was an assistant coach to the Boonsboro Middle School team that competed and won Saturday's 28th annual event at E. Russell Hicks Middle School.
More than 100 students from Bishop Walsh, Boonsboro, Braddock, Clear Spring, Hicks, Northern, Smithsburg, Springfield and Western Heights middle schools in Washington and Allegany counties tested their mathematical knowledge as individuals and four-member teams on problems similar to the following sample from the MathCounts website:
"What is the 2011th term of the arithmetic sequence -4, -1, 2 ... where each term after the first is three more than the preceding term?"
The pairs of students facing off in the Countdown Round that was the finale of the event had 45 seconds to digest the question, compute and deliver the answer.
At the end of the countdown it was Aaron George of Boonsboro who edged out teammate Gunnie Margrabe for individual honors, although that part of the competition was not part of the official scoring.
"I was here last year, and I wanted to do better," said George, who finished second in the countdown and fifth individually last year, while his Boonsboro team was first.
The Boonsboro team, including George, Margrabe, Frank Liao and Jeff Bennett, will be going on to the Maryland MathCounts competition on March 19 at John Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Also going to Baltimore will the second-place Braddock Middle School team of Ethan Greist, Zach Ellsworth, Thorne Lindsey and Grant Hoover and the Northern Middle School team of Max Burzinski, Elta Clarke, Chris Mills and Andersen Sindaco, which placed third.
Also headed to the state competition are the 16 top individual "Mathletes" from Saturday based on the morning exams.
Liao and George finished first and second, respectively, followed in order by Alex Snouffer of Springfield, Hoover, Priscilla Bushko of Boonsboro, Clarke, Garrett Kesner of Braddock, Aidan Thaggard of Boonsboro, Mills, Burzinski, Matthew Hockensmith of E. Russell Hicks, Margrabe, Ellsworth, Garrett Hughes of Braddock, Michael Robinette of Smithsburg and Lindsey.
The competition began with a Sprint Round, where all the students had 40 minutes to solve 30 problems, MathCounts Coordinator Dan Matonak said. That was followed by the Target Round during which the students had to answer eight questions — two each in four six-minute intervals, he said.
During the Team Round the four-member teams had 20 minutes to solve 10 questions, said Matonak, an engineer who has been involved in MathCounts since its inception.
"It's exciting for us, as engineers, to see kids out there who enjoy solving math problems," Matonak said. Many of these students will be going into math and science careers, he said.
"These are kids who are really motivated," said Roy Struble, a Boonsboro Middle School geometry and algebra teacher who coached the team with fellow algebra teacher Jane Artman. "The students who have gone through MathCounts absolutely excel .... They go on to the better schools and take the harder classes."
"My math was a lot stronger than my English, and I didn't think I was being challenged enough," Dougherty said of his reasons for becoming involved in MathCounts when he was a sixth-grader.
The MathCounts National Competition is May 5-8 in Washington, D.C.