By Isabelle Lee and Shannon Zhao

Thanksgiving Tournament 1

ST. MARGARET’S EPISCOPAL SCHOOL, SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO - 240 students ranging from third grade to sixth grade rushed to the Thanksgiving Tournament, a free annual math contest hosted by the Orange County Math Circle (OCMC) on Saturday, Nov. 5.

Featuring numerous events, such as an individual round, a team round, and a mental math relay, the tournament tested the ability of the young students in a variety of exciting and interesting ways.

After registration, the students filed into the large gymnasium of St. Margaret’s Episcopal School and sat at tables with students of the same grade level. University High School junior Neah Lekan and Northwood High School sophomore Elaine Chao, both of whom are board members of OC Science, gave a warm welcome to the parents of the students. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, they asked the students what they were thankful for, and received a variety of responses ranging from their parents to video games.

The individual round began as the members of OCMC proctored and handed out the tests to the tables. The students, bouncing with anticipation, nervousness, and excitement, delved into the math problems. The individual round was comprised of four sets of eight problems each, with a 12-minute time limit per set. Crunched for time, the focused students rapidly worked out the problems on their scratch paper. Each time the time limit was called, it was met with groans followed by a feverish discussion of their answers, guesses, and strategies.

Thanksgiving Tournament 2

“I guess it was hard because of the time. It was a little bit of pressure because you had to answer it before the time’s up,” The Pegasus School fourth grader and participant Estella Sky Keyoung said. “And, there’s many hard questions.”

Students rushed out of the gym after the individual round and crowded the table where a bake sale was held, eager to eat the tempting food on the table. A few students were stopped for a brief photo activity: the students were given a laminated sheet with the words “Math is”. In the space below the words, students would insert their own thoughts on what they thought of math, most emphasizing the challenging yet engaging appeal of mathematics. The students then smile for the camera, capturing the student and his or her statement on math.

While the students were occupied with their snacks and animated conversations, parents waited outside for their children. Two parents, Roland Perez and Shana Perez, waited for their fifth grade daughter. When asked about the importance of math in the world, Mrs. Perez said, “I think it's important for the future...there's going to be a need [for math] for engineers, for architects, for doctors, and scientists.”

Elaborating on the benefits of tournaments like these, Mr. Perez said, “She's made a few friends from different schools that she's seen over the years...they go to different schools but they always see each other at tournaments. So it kind of brings them together - kids of common interest."

He added, “I think [tournaments] supplement their regular school learning from their regular classroom and allow them to apply themselves.”

Sorted by grade accordingly, students were seated in teams of six at tables themed yellow (sixth grade), pink (fifth grade), green (fourth grade) or blue (third grade). A total of 40 teams were given 25 minutes to solve a number of math problems, differing by grade. The groups of students conversed in hushed voices while tensions built as the timer counted down. In the last few seconds of the rounds, the students counted down from five, cheering when the timer finally hit zero.

Thanksgiving Tournament 3

After settling down from previous round, the students were ushered to the field in groups consisting of their table team and the table team adjacent to theirs. At the field, the rules of the next activity were explained to the students. Each team would line up across from their respective proctor, who was placed at the other side of the field. After the ‘start’ signal, the first student in the line would race down the field to their proctor and attempt to mentally solve a math problem the proctor gave, displayed on the small board they held. Regardless of whether the answer given was correct or not, the student would run back to their team and ‘tag’ the next student inline to run and answer the next problem given. The first team per grade level to finish all their problems correctly was deemed the winner.

Back in the auditorium, the teams were sorted back into their original table groups while waves of parents filed in and onto the bleachers. Each student was given a certificate of achievement while they waited for the Awards Ceremony to begin. Before transitioning directly into announcing the team awards, the Awards Ceremony opened with a speech from Director Natalie Yee and an informational slideshow on the OCMC.

“Our main goal [at OCMC] is to make math seem fun for the kids, to nurture their interests in math and make sure they continue to pursue it,” explained Yee. “They come to the tournament, [and] they’re obviously passionate about math. And, we just want to give an opportunity for them to meet new people who are also interested and to have fun.”

Thanksgiving Tournament 4

The team awards were given to the top two scoring teams for each grade level. Following them were the highly anticipated individual awards were announced, in order of third grade to sixth grade, the top three places receiving trophies and the fourth to sixth places receiving medals. Standing alongside Yee, the assistant tournament directors and the presidents of OCMC, the winning student groups smiled for the parent paparazzi. The day closed with students cheerfully congratulating their teammates as OCMC volunteers packed up the remnants of the tournament.

OCMC puts on multiple tournaments like these throughout the year to expose a variety of students to opportunities to expand their academic experience outside of school. As Michael Wu, Co-President OCMC and University High School junior puts it, “Our main goal in tournaments is not necessarily to prove who is number one in the county in math...I think that’s a part of it, but more of it is to try to reach out to each one of the tournament participants and make it as fun and engaging of an experience as possible for these students, and to spark their interest in math.” He adds, “These tournaments really helped me further my mathematical journey and enrich my education.”

OCMC will be hosting more math tournaments throughout the year - the New Year’s Invitational on Jan. 14 and the All Girls Math Tournament on April 1, which will both be held at St. Margaret’s. For more information, visit