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Dateline Dixon: ‘You just do your best’

Dixon sophomore finishes fifth at state math competition

Michael Gale is better at math than I am. And chances are he’s better at it than you are.

But don’t get offended at my generalized statement just yet.

Gale, a 16-year-old sophomore at Dixon High School, is a member of not only the tennis team, but also the math team.

Both Gale and the Dixon sophomore math team finished in the top 10 at the state math competition earlier this month. The school also sent an eight-member freshman-sophomore team to state and had sophomore Devin Attig qualify.

Dixon math team coach Jessica Anderson said Gale’s fifth-place finish is the highest individual finish in her 3 years as coach.

Gale joined the team as a freshman, following in the footsteps of his brother, Kurt.

“I decided partially because my brother had previously done it, and I have always been good at math,” Gale said last week. “And it would be fun to do and good to do.”

He has qualified for the state competition in each of his first 2 years on the team. He couldn’t attend last year, he said, because of a conflict with the tennis team schedule.

After competing in the conference competition in the winter and the regional competition in March, Gale made his way to the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana for the state competition.

“These questions are more difficult than what we do in the general classroom,” Anderson said, later adding that “it’s very much an individually driven competition.”

What that means is that the students don’t just refine their math skills in class or by taking the practice tests Anderson gives them. It also involves more than working with Anderson or other math teachers.

The students have to work on their math craft on their own time.

Initially, Gale thought he finished tied for third. That’s what the results showed. But a few days later, revised results were released, with Gale in fifth place.

There were some tie-breakers that didn’t go in his favor, he said, adding that he was surprised to see the change.

But he still seemed happy with how he performed. And despite nearly 3,000 students attending the opening ceremony, he said the pressure wasn’t much greater than it is during a regional competition.

“It’s a math test,” he said. “You do what you know, and that’s all you can do. You just do your best.”

Sauk Valley Media reporter Matt Mencarini covers government and happenings in Dixon. He can be reached at or at 815-625-3600, ext. 5529. Follow him on twitter: @MattMencarini.

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