Caitlin Randell was among people just like her — only they were all boys.

The Baraboo High School junior found herself in the company of fellow math whizzes last month, as she participated in a national high school math competition. She was among 10 regional competitors, and took pride in representing the Midwest and, as the only female participant, girls everywhere. “It was really cool to be a girl there and represent my gender,” she said.

Randell also stood out because the other finalists tended to be from elite private high schools. But otherwise, she fit right in. “It was a great experience to meet different kids from across the country who are similar to me,” she said. “It was so cool to get to compete and talk with people like me.”

She qualified by acing a preliminary test. BHS math teacher Chris Labeots guessed she answered at least nine, and possibly all 10, of the brain-teasing questions correctly. “Her score was above and beyond any in the region,” he said.

This earned Randell a trip to a national math conference in San Diego, Calif. that attracted more than 6,000 people from around the world. She met math professors and other prominent figures in the field.

Her extended family made the trip, as did Labeots and wife Cheryl. “I think we had the most fun group there,” Randell said.

While other students crammed before the competition, Randell opted to smell the roses. “My thought was, ‘What I know, I know,’” she said. “I was just happy to be there.”

Randell placed sixth and didn’t make the cut for the competition’s semifinal round. But she did walk away with $500 in prize money — the grand prize was $5,000 — and plenty of free giveaways from the convention booths. “I think my brother got like 200 free pens,” she said. “We had to, like, ship some of the stuff.”

She also walked away with broadened horizons. Randell’s goal is to be a neurosurgeon, but at the math conference she learned of many other fields that require a head for numbers, such as actuarial science and test writing.

Labeots, who teaches Randell advanced math via independent study, said this prize pupil is humble and dedicated. “It’s great to have somebody that’s motivated and interested in the field,” he said.

Randell credits her parents — especially mother Catherine Randell, an aide at East Elementary School — with spurring her to appreciate learning and a well-rounded education. That’s why she takes advanced courses in subjects besides math. “Math isn’t my life. It’s another thing I enjoy doing,” she said.

Her next challenge is the U.S. Math Olympics. Along with the rest of the BHS Math Club, Randell recently took a preliminary test. The top 2.5 percent will be invited to take a second-round test in March.

Randell hopes to advance, of course, but the outcome won’t define her. If there’s one thing she learned in San Diego, it’s that there are a lot of really sharp math minds out there: “There’s always someone smarter than you.”

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