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Central Texas high school student with knack for math brings home the gold

Published: May. 4, 2021 at 5:35 PM CDT
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JONESBORO, Texas (KWTX) A Jonesboro high school freshman who has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of high functioning autism, has become the first student in the history of his small school district to win the gold at the UIL Academics state meet and he did so with the support of his entire school.

Luke Maxwell, 15, won first place in the UIL’s Number Sense contest, which is a mental math competition in which students are given 80 difficult questions covering all high school mathematics courses and are allowed just 10 minutes to answer them with no erasures or mark outs.

What is the diameter of a circle with an area of 100?

If seven times a number is twenty more than twice the number, what is the number?

If the angles of a triangle are 24 degrees and 46 degrees, what is the measure of the third angle?

Sample Number Sense questions

When Luke left campus Friday for the final time before his Saturday competition, students, staff, and family members lined the hallways to cheer him on.

“It made me feel so surprised and special to see all those kids and adults stand up and cheer and smile for me and high five me, fist bump me, hug me,” Luke said.

Some of the student even made signs.

One read “Luke Go for the Gold.”

Another said, “Luke be positive and be greater than great.”

A young girl decorated a poster board that said “Go Luke. You rock. I hope you win!”

Mental math has always been one of Luke’s strengths, his mom, Betsy Spitzer, said.

“He’s never not won a Number Sense competition since he started competing in them for Jonesboro in fifth grade,” Betsy said.

But his mom thinks it wasn’t just his knack for math that motivated him as he competed at the highest level in the state against all students in grades nine through 12 in the 1A division.

“He started in Jonesboro his fifth-grade year to be in a smaller environment and help him learn to socialize and be more involved in activities,” Betsy said.

“With his autism, it was a journey for the faculty, staff, students and Luke but as you can see, it has become a beautiful thing,” she said.

The Jonesboro ISD, in Coryell County, northwest of Gatesville, has a single school and about 350 students.

Luke didn’t learn the results until Monday when his UIL coach and teacher Tina Janke, shared the good news with him.

He won first place by four points.

“It made me feel so blessed to listen to those kids demand to inspire them after they inspired me to do this and winning first place, well, it’s a win win,” Luke said.

“They inspire me. I inspire them. It’s a cycle of inspiration.”

Luke will receive a medal next week.

The school will honor him at its academic awards ceremony on May 17.

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