Howard computer teams take top honors at nationals

June 15, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

Two teams of Howard County students took top honors at the recent American Computer Science League All-Star Competition, a contest of logic, skill and speed among more than 100 teams from across the United States and Canada.

In its first national competition, the three-member team of Atholton High School students Justin Funches, Mani Mahjouri and Benjamin Mowery placed first in the Intermediate 3 division, in which they competed with 20 other teams at the Freehold, N.J., competition.

The team of Atholton student Brian Walsh, Mount Hebron High School student Bill Bobnar and Centennial High School student Ken Esler took second place in the Senior 3 division, also beating 20 other teams. Brian and Bill graduated this year. Ken will graduate next year.

"Never in my wildest dream did I think we were going to win," said Reg Hahne, computer team coach and an Atholton teacher. "We were just going along to enjoy ourselves. I am elated at the whole situation."

The two teams won preliminary competitions before they were invited to last month's all-star meet, which was divided into two parts. Each team was given three hours to solve four programming problems and one hour to answer computer programming theory questions about Boolean algebra, data structure, graph theory and other subjects normally tackled at the college level.

Students on the intermediate level -- a freshman, a sophomore and a junior -- were part of Mr. Hahne's PASCAL programming class, while students on the senior team had taken his after-school advanced placement computer programming class.

"They're very good at it," Mr. Hahne said. "They're very bright kids, of course."

The students all have one thing in common: They love to sit in front of computers and work on problems until they get the elusive answers, a process that sometimes takes days and pages of coding.

When Benjamin started on computers several years ago as a hobby, "I got hooked," the 14-year-old said. "I like solving problems. I like to see different things on the screen."

Mani, 16, said: "It's real. . . . It's straightforward."

"And it doesn't talk back," added Benjamin, a computer fanatic who peppers his speech with computer jargon.

For the most part, computer programming is trial and error, said Justin, 17. "You don't get it the first time," he says. "You have to work at it."

Students on the senior team say that they enjoyed competing with other students.

"There aren't too many opportunities where you get to meet a bunch of other people with similar interests," said Ken, 17.

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