TAMPA — Aaron Warwick and his friends had a problem and, for a group of high school students, it wasn't your typical dilemma:
Develop a mathematical model to estimate the impact of drought conditions on Lake Powell in the Colorado River Basin. Based on this model, prepare a report on the drought's likely implications in light of the Colorado River Compact of 1922, which prescribes the distribution of water. Address the impact on Lake Powell over the next five years, assuming a set of inflow predictions.
And that's not even all of it.
They, and hundreds of other teams, were given 14 hours to research, calculate and write up their findings for a national competition called Moody's Mega Math Challenge.
The final field of six included these Robinson High School International Baccalaureate students: Kennon Bittick, James Gibson, Erin Seligsohn and Steven Seligsohn; and coach Judi Charley-Sale.
And Warwick. Of course.
My own kids went through elementary and middle school with Warwick and competed in some of the same events. Seeing him win a big trophy was always part of the drill.
If it seems like lately there's an I.B. school on every corner, it's the best possible setting for someone with Warwick's drive and intellect.
His parents, with two younger and equally remarkable Warwicks at home in Carrollwood, might be geniuses, but they do a good job of impersonating regular folks.
"I've got to be nice to these kids," the father, Ed Warwick, used to say. "So they'll put me in the home with the good food."
Traveling to New York with the team last month for the contest conclusion, he still found it odd that his son is so gifted in math. "I was never very good at it," he said.
Warwick, the son, said it wasn't hard to divide the problem into manageable components. Bittick and Gibson were the strongest at programming, so they worked on the computer model. The others focused on economic research about the upper and lower basin.
"There is not really a right or wrong answer," Warwick said. "It's really more effective or less effective."
The Robinson group was the first to present, which gave them a chance to watch all the others. First place went to another Florida team: Pine View School in Sarasota County.
Robinson placed fourth.
Now, in years past, Warwick might have been dissatisfied to do all that work and travel all that distance and not take the gold.
But we all grow up sooner or later. And Warwick, sounding almost humble this week, said, "I was just glad we didn't get last."
He also appreciated the experience. "It's like taking the math you use in school and putting it into real-life uses," he said. "Everything about this problem is very real."
The team was scheduled to be recognized at a School Board ceremony this week. The students also receive $7,500 from the Moody Foundation, to be divided equally among team members and paid to colleges and universities they will attend.
Warwick's graduation is around the corner. Then it's off to … Florida State University.
Go ahead, ask. I know why.
Warwick wants to major in music.
• • •
The bosses wanted me to help with a story Monday about senior pranks after police said some kids tried to Saran-wrap Plant High School.
Were there others to report?
I won't reveal my sources, but there was chatter about induced vomiting at the Blake High School cafeteria.
At Sickles High, a parent tells me about graffiti on the walls this week: "Class of 2011" had been spray painted in three colors in locations throughout the school.
It was gone by fifth period, she said, adding that she was disappointed in the lack of imagination.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or firstname.lastname@example.org.