On Marty Badoian and Being a Canton Mathlete

By Carrie Diaz Eaton, Associate Professor of Digital and Computational Studies, Bates College


At the beginning of my first semester here at Bates, I received some jarring news. My high school math teacher, Marty Badoian, had passed away.

I think everyone has that professor or teacher.  You know - “the one” that all paths lead back to in your life. That was Marty Badoian. There are many more figures in my life who have made a difference, who encouraged me to pursue math, who guided me, who provided me with opportunities. There were many moments that were pivotal, where I can almost see the fork in the road and see myself deliberately choosing a path that led to the outcomes of today. But Marty was a part of my life for four years formative to earning my PhD in math. Outside of my family, he is the one I credit with my ability to achieve what I have achieved today. Marty was one of the crucially necessary, though not sufficient, conditions.

While in his memorial Facebook group, many of Marty’s students posted of his kindness and mentoring. I had a bit of a different relationship with him. Marty Badoian was the one that made me struggle with math, that put the bar so high I never thought I was good enough. And yet, that early experience of failing, of working so hard, of being given the chance to compete at high levels, and of being supported regardless - well he was my Jaime Escalante.

Let me back up a bit and put the story into perspective. Marty was a Brown University graduate who eventually settled as a math teacher at Canton High School - a public high school in the suburbs of Boston. Anyone who has been a part of the math competition scene in New England knows of Canton High School and likely also of Marty. In 1966, he founded the Mathematics Massachusetts League and the Greater Boston Mathematics League (see his obituary for more information and a longer timeline of his life and accomplishments). He coached his mathletes like he coached basketball - practice every day and during the summer - and at least during my time we were Canton’s most winning team. In 1984, he was awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. By the time I moved to the Canton School system in 1994, just in time for high school, Canton had won 14 out of the last 15 New England Mathematics League [NEML] Championships.  


When I was in 8th grade, my dad got a new job in Boston. We had to move and he was keeping in mind the reputation of the math team as a factor since I had shown an interest in math. After we chose Canton, my meeting with Mr. Badoian that spring wasn’t quite what I expected - I left crying! He quizzed me and took my measure as a burgeoning mathematician.  Some of the mathematical operations had different names that I didn’t recognize (factor by grouping was called a “2-3” or a “3-2,” for example). For once in my mathematical life, I was worried I wasn’t good enough. But Marty told my dad to get a senior to tutor me that summer to catch me up on these differences, and in the fall I took both Marty’s 9th and 10th grade math classes.

In these classes, I always felt like the one that struggled the most. It was intimidating to be with colleagues a grade ahead. But there was something about the culture that Marty created that made this reach something that the students admired. You weren’t a weird nerd if you were on the math team, you were on top of the world. You weren’t stupid if you went after school for help every day on your math class, it was expected and normal. While his self-made curriculum of worksheets was unorthodox, it introduced our junior math class to vectors and distance between planes, proof by induction, and introductory number theory. This combination of high expectations, innovative approaches to curriculum, and culture around work ethic and expected mathematical growth made Canton’s math students a powerhouse. I might have struggled in this powerhouse, but I was quite unaware that even a struggling person in Marty’s room was quite a good mathematician. The first year I made the American Regions Math League [ARML] Massachusetts team, I turned it down because I had a family trip that week. I truly had no idea it was an honor.  


I started competing in math competitions, like most Canton students, in my sophomore year. We shared a bus, we did a lot of math, and we traded wins with our rivals at Lexington. We also always had dinner after competing, and it always involved a discussion of the answers to the problems on paper napkins and paper placemats and how to do better next time. Many weekends were spent volunteering at the high school football concession stand and the Foxboro (now Gillette) Stadium concession stand raising money for the team. I had no idea at the time, but this didn’t just pay for our bus rides and dinners - this gave me a scholarship that paid for what my University tuition scholarship didn’t cover in my first year. Marty also recommended me as a tutor, which I loved, and which in retrospect, really helped me practice my mathematics. And thinking back now, I realize also that Marty also had two women and two men as senior team captains - reflecting a diversity that I don’t see in many of today’s top math teams. So sure, it was the math - but it was more… it was a package of opportunity, a team, and a growth mindset culture.


So, when did I realize what I had? It is funny how even now when I look back at my scores as I try to reconstruct my experience to write this post, I didn’t remember making the [tied-for] highest individual score for my team on the NEML in ‘97 and second highest in ‘98. I only remember our new theme song from Queen coming over the radio “We are the Champions” on the way to dinner that night. I think the understanding didn’t set in until I was on the ARML team that won the international competition at PennState. We had reporters from all over, including the Boston Globe come and interview us, and I was awarded a State Senate official citation!  But by then I had also decided that I wasn’t a mathematician. You see, I liked doing mathematics and I loved teaching mathematics, but I didn’t love investigating mathematics for the beauty of math. It was a few years later (and probably a future separate blog post worth sharing), when I finally realized I could study biology questions with mathematics!

In 2004, Marty was thrown a huge party to celebrate his 50th year of teaching.  I told him I was getting my PhD in Mathematics. He seemed surprised. At the time I thought he didn’t think I was capable. But as I reflect now, I think he saw me as a bit stubborn in pursuing my dreams of zoology, and never thought I would ever give mathematics serious consideration. We didn’t have the close mentoring relationship some had because I feared him - or rather feared disappointing him. And, sadly, I missed the opportunity to tell him thank you and show him that I did indeed make it! However, now that he has passed, I think finally it is possible for him to see all of me from where he is, all of my challenges, all of the forks in the road, and can be proud of where I am today. RIP Marty Badoian. You created the environment of opportunity, teamwork, and mathematics learning that has helped many of your students accomplish what they have done today.

Note: A big thank you to former Canton High Math teammate, Dave Archibald, who shared these photos of newspaper clippings from The Patriot Ledger, The Canton Journal, and The Boston Sunday Globe.