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Davis-coached math team three-peats in national championship

The Lehigh Valley American Regions Math League team, coached by Lehigh professor Don Davis, poses after this year's competition. The Fire team won the national title for the third straight year.

A regional high school math team coached by Lehigh University mathematics professor Don Davis scored an impressive three-peat over the weekend in a national competition that has been called the “World Series of math.”

The Davis-led Lehigh Valley Fire beat 133 teams in the American Regions Mathematics League (ARML) to win its third consecutive national title and fourth in the past seven years.

“I publish a good deal of research,” Davis says. “But this to me is the most important thing I’ve done with my career.”

This year’s victory went down to the wire. Heading into the final round, the Lehigh Valley Fire team trailed Phillips Exeter Academy of Exeter, N.H., by eight points. During the final round, each team member competes individually to solve a math problem, and then passes that answer on as part of the next equation. If any team member gets an answer wrong, all of the answers that follow will also be wrong.

Out of 40 possible points in the final round, the Fire scored 36 to Phillips Exeter’s 21 to seize the national title.

Davis founded the Lehigh Valley team in 1993, and under his direction, it has developed into a juggernaut, attracting the best high school and middle school math students from the Lehigh Valley, greater Philadelphia, the Poconos, and parts of New Jersey. Davis fielded five 15-member teams this year: Fire, Ice, Lightning, Thunder and Storm.

In addition to the Fire team’s national championship, the Ice team finished 22nd, their best finish ever, and the Lightning team finished fourth in Division B, which means they will be moved to Division A (which consists of the elite teams) for the next three years.

The ARML brings together the nation’s top mathematics students to compete and sharpen their math skills. Each year the competition is held concurrently at Penn State, the University of Iowa, the University of Georgia and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, with students from across the country competing as individuals and in teams. The Lehigh Valley team competed at Penn State.

Davis’ assistant coach, Ken Monks, is one of Davis’ former students who received his Ph.D. from Lehigh in 1989 and is now a mathematics professor at the University of Scranton.

Davis says he gets “a huge amount of satisfaction” from coaching the team. “The e-mails from parents are particularly gratifying,” he says.

And Davis says the team’s success is no accident.

“It has a lot to do with the time and the love in creating an environment where kids love to come to practice,” he says.

For more information, visit the Lehigh Valley American Regions Math League team site.

Story by Jordan Reese

Posted on Monday, June 06, 2011

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