Young Senior Leads Math Team To Best Finish In Decades



Senior John Gillespie consults his team during a math meet
Senior John Gillespie consults his team during a math meet

By Julie Fortin

Class of 2010


Imagine being 11 years old and being a new student in high school.  Your friends are stilling smoothing out the kinks of basic math and geography; instead, you are learning the complexities of geometry and biology.  That was the reality for John Gillespie, now a 15 year old senior at Walpole High School.

John has had a atypical experience as a student: in 2007, he enrolled at the high school as a sophomore – at 11 years of age.

Over the course of his three years at Walpole High School, John has thrived; more specifically, he has become an integral part of the math team.  With the advantage of counting as an underclassman but having the knowledge of an upperclassman, John was recruited for the math team sophomore year while taking pre-calculus honors with Ms. Kathleen Milne.  During that year, he was named among the division’s top scorers.  He also had the prestigious honor of receiving the gold medal for math as a junior and earning the Rensselaer medal in the same year.

However, John’s real achievements have come during the 2009-2010 season – his senior year.  Although he has always been a “valuable contributor to the math team,” says Ms. Milne, he has been “performing with a greater consistency [this year] than in the past.”  This consistency has allowed John to be named the third highest scoring senior in the Southerastern Massachusetts Association of Mathematics Leagues (SMML).  He has also maintained a minimum of at least 13 points per meet.

With such a strong individual performance in the math team, John has been a key component to this year’s math team, which has proven to be the most successful team in Walpole’s history.  After the team’s first qualification in the Massachusetts Association of Mathematics Leagues (MAML) tournament since 1997 last year, the team’s goal was to beat at least one team in the large school division.  This year, the team finished 4th place out of 32 teams and then placed third at the playoffs – their best finish in nineteen years.

John  and the math team also competed in the state invitational tournament as a medium school on Friday April 9th at Shrewsbury High School.  Their qualification for the tournament itself was a great feat as only a few years ago the team only scored a mere 25 points out of 204 in regular season meets.  During the tournament, the team finished eighth out of twelve teams – scoring eighteen points total – while John managed a perfect score of six points in the arithmitic portion of the competition.

In the classroom, John has always been consistent in his excellent performance.  In his AP Calculus AB class last year he was a lone junior in a class of seniors.  When the seniors left, Ms. Milne taught John “additional calculus concepts that are no longer in the AB curriculum such as l’hopital’s rule and integration by parts,” finishing “material in one day that I would anticipate taking several days” says Ms. Milne.

Although the rapid transition to a high school student was initially hard, it has “turned out well,” says John.  His accelerated education began in fourth grade, when he began taking fifth grade classes, ultimately finishing both academic years over the course of that school year.  With his success in grouping the grades together, he proceeded to complete sixth and seventh grade together, then eighth and ninth during the next year – 2006.

Upon entering the high school, John had previously played soccer since he was five.  However, as a new sophomore, he was not initially permitted to play for the high school team because of his age.  As an alternative and in order to continue playing the sport, John competed on U12 and U14 teams.  This year, as a senior, he was finally eligible to join the freshman team.

Outside of soccer and math teams, John also enjoys participating on the robotics team, the Walpole Robo-Rebels.

Choosing to place himself in such an unwonted and demanding situation, John has overcome the discrepancy between his age, and the age of his classmates, in order to be properly challenged.  When asked if he would take back the experience and remain in the same grade as his peers – actually being a freshman this year – John said no because “it has allowed [him] to learn abut many useful things and hopefully [it] has better prepared [him] for college.”

Next year John intends to enter college – as a 15 year old – to study engineering.  His age however will not be reflective of his ability – as he has proven through his years at Walpole High – and he feels as ready as his fellow seniors to take the next step to a college or university.

John’s experience, although uncommon and impossible for the average student, has been most beneficial for him and the math team, and he – like any other high school student regardless of age – has found his niche.