By Tara Kyle
WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Over 1,000 middle school students from across the city faced off over algebra - and a giant, math-themed pinata - at the annual Pi5NY Math Tournament Saturday.
The six-year-old event, held at the Armory Track & Field Center at 216 Fort Washington Ave., is designed to treat arithmetic with the same fanfare as a track meet or basketball.
The tournament boasts an "Olympic-Style" opening ceremony, complete with a parade of competitors and hoisting of the "Pi-nata" — a super-sized piñata shaped like the Greek letter pi.
Before awards were passed out, singers and dancers performed to hype up the crowd.
"So many things get celebrated, like sports, but they don't get to celebrate what they're doing in school," said David Krulwich, assistant principal at the Urban Assembly for Applied Math and Science (AMS), a Bronx school that founded the event in 2006.
During the 45-minute math competition, each grade is divided into two divisions — varsity, for teams with students who meet or exceed proficiency standards on their statewide exams, and junior varsity for teams with students scoring at or below the basic standard.
Five teens from M.S. 216 in Queens took home the sixth grade varsity win as well the grand championship for top overall score.
But that victory came only after the squad struggled over a question asking for the least common multiple of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10.
"We changed our answer so many times," said M.S. 216 student Tara Chowdhury, an aspiring author.
Tweens from the Lower East Side's NEST+M won seventh and eighth grade varsity honors.
"I'm feeling pretty good, seeing how we won and got a perfect score," said NEST+M eighth grader Gideon Leeber.
The biggest challenge for NEST+M's eighth graders was a question asking for the sum of all even numbers from 200 to 1,000, according to Leeber.
"It's all about the attitude; you have to be mentally ready," he said.
In the junior varsity division, students from The Bronx's Lorraine Hansberry School took the eighth grade win. Brooklyn's Rafael Cordero School came out on top of seventh grade competitors and the Lew Wallace School, also in Brooklyn, won for sixth grade.
The JV division is designed to encourage kids who might be interested in math despite limited academic success, organizers said.
Watching the victors throng the remnants of the busted "Pi-nata," Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott said he appreciated seeing students from across the city build skills as well as a sense of community.
"To me there's nothing better than to have students competing at math," Walcott said. "That's what life is about — making sure we highlight the great things our students are doing."