In mid-May, Sam Dittmer of Zionsville received an e-mail inviting him to the 31st annual American Regions Math League competition that was only three weeks away. It didn’t matter that it was short notice — Dittmer was born ready.

The 16-year-old Zionsville Community High School student entered as a member of the Indiana Gold Team in the June competition among more than 1,650 of the top mathematics students from around the United States. Dittmer took first place in the nation, and was the only student to correctly solve each of the eight problems in the competition’s individual section.

“I think there were only two or three people who got question eight right — I felt pretty excited,” Dittmer said.

When he learned that he had the only perfect individual score, Dittmer found it hard to suppress his modesty in front of his competition.

“I allowed myself one victorious arm punch in the air,” he said.

ZCHS Math teacher Jean Glore said in 28 years of teaching she has never had another student like Dittmer.

“Sam is what you would call a prodigy, he is a once in your career kind of student,” she said. “He does mathematics like most people drink water.”

She said this year is the third year she has had Dittmer in her class and he has already advanced beyond the level most people reach in college.

Last year in a lower level calculus course, she said all she could do was provide Dittmer with supplements and practice test questions. This year he has moved into a more advanced class, and Glore said she is hoping to move into a more traditional instructor’s role.

“I’m hoping I can teach him something,” she said.

This isn’t Dittmer’s only mathematics championship. Earlier this year, he and the Zionsville Academic Super Bowl team took first place in the math competition at the state level. He also plays viola for the school orchestra and participates as a delegate in the Model United Nations.

Dittmer and the rest of his 42-member Indiana Gold Team, traveled to the University of Iowa in Iowa City, one of the ARML competition’s three sites. Students from around the country also traveled to Pennsylvania State University and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

Along with Dittmer’s individual accomplishments, Indiana Gold Team placed third at the Iowa site and finished 17th among more than 100 teams nationally.

Still, Dittmer’s individual accomplishment has provoked some of his friends to call him “the smartest kid in the nation.” He doesn’t necessarily agree with that title, attributing some of his success to strategy going into competition.

“You’re allotted such a short amount of time for each question,” he said, “It’s about keeping cool.”

Although Dittmer has always been especially talented in mathematics, he went into the competition with some preparation. “Keeping cool” is what he discussed with his older brother, Andrew, who received a gold medal at the 1993 International Mathematical Olympiad in Istanbul, Turkey. Dittmer also spent his three weeks of preparation by looking through questions from previous ARML competitions.

He didn’t want to be too caught up in preparedness, though. The night before the competition, he and some teammates relaxed by skipping an optional discussion on mathematics to catch the NBA Playoffs game on TV. He believes it really helped the team’s camaraderie the next day.

“I think we did a good job of getting to know each other despite the time constraint,” he said.

He hopes his ARML success will be a good step toward following in his brother’s footsteps by competing in the International Mathematical Olympiad, which takes only the top 12 mathematics students in the country, along with the top 16 to 18 non-seniors. Dittmer is ranked 75th in the nation, according to American Mathematics Competitions and USA Mathematical Olympiad.

For now, Dittmer will try to work his way up the ranks, while maintaining a well-rounded student life.

This Week's Circulars