THREE RIVERS – Winning a state championship in anything requires hard work, tenacity and some good fortune along the way, and when it happens after coming so close on several occasions in the past, it makes the experience even more rewarding. That’s the scenario experienced recently by the Three Rivers High School calculator team, which capped off its efforts by earning first place in Texas.
The team is coached by Jimmy Conn, and included seniors Carolina Cruces and Josh Moya, junior Brandon Conn (the coach’s nephew) and freshman Gustavo Riojas.
“It’s an awesome accomplishment — we’re so happy that this group of students was able to earn and celebrate a state championship,” Three Rivers High School Principal Ross Baker said.
“A tremendous effort and a tremendous achievement,” said Three Rivers Independent School District Superintendent Les Dragon. “These are fantastic kids who worked so hard to make that happen, and are very deserving of their success.”
The tension and drama of the effort to capture a state championship are ingredients that would make an exciting movie.
“The last four or five years, we’ve been real close behind two other schools, and there’s one school in particular that has beaten us repeatedly by a very close margin,” Conn said. “We’ve lost to that team in the past sometimes by just one point. In 2016, we finished second in the state to them.”
That rival is Pettus, ironically located only about a half hour away from Three Rivers in neighboring Bee County. Pettus’ outstanding teams have repeatedly edged Three Rivers, but that was not to be the case in 2019.
In fact, the Three Rivers team took care of business early, topping Pettus before the teams reached state.
“This year, we beat them at regionals to advance to state,” Conn said. “We finally did it. It was the right combination of two seniors who had been working with me for four years, one junior who has been on the team for two years and a freshman who came along and fit right in.
“Two of these kids had older siblings on the team who went to state. This group had a great work ethic, and their families value education. They finally pulled through and won the championship.”
What’s involved in calculation competition? It’s a grueling test that is far more difficult than it might sound.
“There are three general types of questions per page,” Conn said. The first five are numerical calculations performed on a special calculator. Then there are three word problems. That’s followed by two geometry problems.
“That’s repeated seven times on each page, and it gets progressively harder. It’s an engineering test. These are the types of questions that engineers actually solve. It’s a timed test. Students have 30 minutes to complete it.
“It’s very stressful. It’s important for the students to work quickly, but also accurately.”
The test involves types of math ranging from algebra to upper level calculus.
“We have to teach materials that are more advanced than the high school level,” Conn said.
With two of the team members set to return for 2020, Conn has the start of a foundation for defending the school’s state title.
“We have two returning next year, plus we have a bunch of young kids who didn’t make the team who are smart and talented and will definitely help us next year,” Conn said.
On the 2019 team, senior Cruces had been to state three times, including her freshman year in 2016 when Three Rivers finished second in Texas.
Moya, the team’s other senior, wasn’t even able to pose in the picture with team members holding their state championship trophy because of other commitments.
“He had to attend a baseball playoff game, so as soon as he took the test, he had to have someone take him immediately to the game,” Conn said.
That’s the type of dedication and diversity of talent that continues to serve Three Rivers well. Moya finished fifth in the state individually in calculator applications, while Cruces finished sixth.
“This is the first time Three Rivers has ever won a state championship in calculator applications,” Conn said. “We won by three questions. It was really close. The difference between first place and fifth was 10 questions.”
What was it like for Conn when his team finally won a state championship? There were a lot of emotions involved, he said.
“It was very interesting,” he said. “Because UIL academic competition happens at the same time as the one-act play contest, for the last two years I couldn’t be at the UIL contest — I had to be with the one-act play group.
“It’s been so close, and I’ve always told the kids that it was possible for them to win a state championship. That’s been the goal for four years, and they finally did it.
“It’s surreal. They worked so hard for this. It was a fun, interesting, outstanding week. I’ve had lots of teams in the past that deserved it. There’s hard work and skill involved, but it takes luck, too.”
Conn said he appreciates the support from community members who have recognized the students’ efforts.
“It’s neat to see the community members, past students and even many of the teachers who taught me when I was a student at Three Rivers comment and show their support,” he said. “We really have outstanding support for our academic programs.”
Jeff Osborne is the editor of The Progress. He can be reached at 361-786-3022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.