DUNDALK – After graciously completing television interviews, Baltimore Ravens lineman John Urschel turned his attention back to Dundalk High Math Academy Students.
Time for a few math lessons, he promised. But first, hey, let’s play some chess.
His opponent: Michael Dannenfelser, a Grade 10 Dundalk High student.
Back and forth they went. The student moved a pawn. The offensive lineman countered by shifting a rook. While Dundalk High students and staff watched in silence, the unlikely chess competitors swapped decisions until, after 10 minutes, Urschel had Checkmate.
Then a bystander pierced the silence, asking what an offensive lineman’s touchdown celebration would look like. Urschel smiled. He smiles a lot. But there would be no celebration. Instead, he went to fetch a dry erase marker so he could start a math lesson.
Thanks to a partnership with Texas Instruments Calculators, Urschel visited a BCPS high school for a second consecutive summer. Last year, Urschel visited with Franklin High students. It’s great publicity for all involved. Texas Instruments used Facebook Live to showcase Urschel’s first lesson about how ice cream is made. The Ravens can tout a player going the extra mile in the community.
But when you get down to it, once the microphones, cameras, and smart phones were put away, you could tell Urschel loves teaching students.
“I enjoy math,” Urschel said. “I enjoy working with young people. I want to help them with mathematics. This is something I’m passionate about. … This doesn’t feel like work.”
By now, most in the Baltimore region know Urschel’s incredible story: Originally from Manitoba. Played college football at Penn State. Excelled in the classroom, earning the William V. Campbell Trophy, known as the Academic Heisman. Drafted by the Ravens. Pursuing a Ph. D. in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Once training camp starts, you will hear Urschel’s name mentioned as a potential starter on the offensive line. But football really didn’t come up much when he met with Dundalk students. He talked about how he wanted to become a math professor when his playing days were over. He shared how his mother’s support inspired him to be the best at everything he did.
While he wore a black Ravens quick-dry T-shirt, the discussion was math driven. After one of his creative word problems, one student said, “you should use that when you become a professor.”
“It was fun,” Michael, the student chess player said. “Plus, we got to learn the entire process of eating ice cream.”
Student reaction to having a professional football player in their summer Math Academy classroom was, predictably, enthusiastic.
“Unbelievable,” said Abrahan, from Dundalk High.
“Exciting,” said Taniya, a Dundalk High student involved in volleyball and track.
“Very cool,” Michael said during multiple television interviews while his classmates pointed out he would be famous by the evening.
And now Michael has a story to tell. About that time he played a NFL player in chess. Michael thought he knew Urschel’s strategy.
He also has a new Texas Instruments graphic calculator, given to each Math Academy student in the classroom. For those who desired, Urschel autographed them. He also said he would be sending math books to classroom participants.
Urschel told students he hoped they would remember to think outside the box to solve equations. Don’t be distracted by irrelevant details. Focus on the facts, or numerals, that matter in order to find the correct equation.
“Math can apply to things outside the classroom,” Urschel said. “The biggest thing is when you are in math classes all day, you are learning formulas, you are solving problems out of a book. But you don’t always see how the math you are learning applies outside the classroom.