Easy as 1-2-3

The first time she went to a Challenge 24 tournament, she was determined to bring home a trophy. Now, eighth-grader Sidney Drake, 14, of Newton Falls, is on her way to the regionals after winning the Trumbull County tournament in November.

The first time she competed, she was in fourth grade, and it was her first time playing the math game in which students must add, subtract, multiply or divide to arrive at the answer of 24, as well as repeat the steps they took to arrive at the answer.

She was the first student from Newton Falls to make it to the second round, and although she didn’t win that year, she came back with a fierce determination.

“She came back, said she loved the game … said next year, ‘I will be one of those kids getting a medal,'” said her former teacher, Gina Woodley.

And she was.

Drake has brought home trophies every year since – including last year’s regional tournament.

Now, she’s preparing for the competition, knowing this will be her last year, as the tournament doesn’t extend beyond eighth grade.

“I’ve been doing it for so long, so I’ll miss it,” Drake said. But she plans on taking home one more trophy.

“I feel like I’m on top. I feel like I’ve done these cards longer” than some of the other students, she said. “I know what to expect.”

This year’s competition is a far cry from her first one in fourth grade, which only dealt with single digits. Now she will be deducing fractions, decimals, integers, algebra, exponents and pockets.

A pocket, she explained, is a card with only three numbers, and the fourth number must be filled in to make the solution work. Sometimes a pocket card must be solved two different ways using the same number.

“I think it’s wonderful that kids get to shine academically” in the Challenge 24 competitions, Woodley said.

The first countywide Challenge 24 tournament was held in 1997, and since then, the number of participating districts has grown.

There were more than 140 Mahoning County participants and 180 students from Trumbull County this year, all in grades four through eight. Sponsors include Time Warner Cable, the Trumbull County Educational Service Center and the Tribune Chronicle, Mahoning Valley Parent Magazine and Town Crier newspapers.

The regional tournament, which takes place on Jan. 22, will include the top 16 students in each grade level from the county tournaments for a total of 64 students each from Trumbull and Mahoning counties.

The public is invited to watch the students compete on Jan. 22 at Warren G. Harding High School’s gymnasium in Warren.

“If you’re into math and you want to learn more, this tournament is a great place to come see how it works and bring it to your school next fall,” Tribune Chronicle events coordinator Sue Shafer said.

Shafer remembers Drake competing for the past four years, and said she is a good competitor.

“She’s not one of those kids who slaps the cards. She doesn’t try to intimidate the other kids. She does her best every time,” she said.

Woodley said she hopes Drake comes out the winner, because she has worked very hard to get here.

“She’s done really well. She’s a great student, she’s a great athlete, she’s very well-rounded. She is an excellent student across the board,” Woodley said, but “math is her gift. She’s good with numbers.”

Drake uses practice decks at home to hone her skills, and she often practices with her father, but she said she always gives him a fair chance.

“His points are multiplied by four just to stay in the game with me,” she said with a smile.

Drake’s mom, Kristie Blake, who teaches in Stow, said she has a hard time keeping up with her.

“I can do them, I just can’t do them that quickly,” she said, explaining she has seen her daughter go through an entire practice deck, front and back, in less than 15 minutes.

“That’s when I’m in the zone, with no distractions,” Blake said, recalling a rough second round of last year’s Trumbull County tournament.