Canaan Smith had a really big dream.
He played on both football and baseball teams for his high school. Like so many young athletes, the Texas native fantasized about playing in the big leagues, like his idol, Yankee Derek Jeter.
Before he could reach that lofty goal, though, he hoped to play college ball. And he had a real shot. The summer before his junior year of high school, the University of Arkansas Razorbacks offered Canaan a football scholarship.
There was only one problem: his grades. Unless he raised his grade point average, he couldn’t continue to play on the team, and he definitely couldn’t play for Arkansas without being “redshirted” – forced to sit out games freshman year in order to focus on academics.
And despite his academic strength in other areas, his difficulty with high school math brought down his grades in both math and science classes.
Dad — and Mathnasium — to the Rescue
Canaan’s father, Maada, a firefighter and his son’s biggest fan, knew he needed to get Canaan help outside of school.
“He needed someplace where he could learn math, not just get through homework,” said Maada. “To go back, create a foundation and build upon that foundation. A private tutor is hard to schedule. I saw Mathnasium of Rockwall and talked to them. They’re great people, super nice and helpful, and actually what I was looking for.”
The comprehensive assessment at Mathnasium of Rockwell determined that Canaan’s math comprehension was at a ninth-grade level. Maada worked with Mathnasium to schedule learning sessions three to five times each week, planning around Canaan’s hectic schedule of weight training, school, baseball and football practices.
From Humbled to Confident
Being the oldest student in the center wasn’t easy on Canaan’s ego.
“I was a little embarrassed at first, because I was a big dude, committed to playing for Arkansas, and saw a lot of little kids in the center,” said Canaan. “When I saw an 8th or 9th grader understanding things that I didn’t, or a 2nd grader who did amazing times tables, it just stunned me. But I was there to work, and after a while I didn’t feel like that at all.”
“They did things to build him back up to his grade level,” recalled Maada. “The best part? The people at Rockwall would email his teacher, and she would tell them exactly what lessons he was doing in class, so they would be step-for-step in stride.”
It took months of work, but Canaan improved exponentially.
“Asking questions, working in unison with Mathnasium and his teacher, communicating constantly about what’s been done and the concepts he needed to comprehend… He just skyrocketed,” his father said. “He has confidence about himself now.”
In order to avoid being redshirted, University of Arkansas also required Canaan to reach a certain ACT score. Because of his work with Mathnasium, he scored two points over what he needed.
Overcoming the Algebra Hurdle
Fast forward to senior year. In what seems like a miracle, Canaan takes Algebra 3 and pulls A's and B's. In December, scouts for Major League Baseball started to take notice of him. Then in April, a Yankees scout — along with a team psychologist — came to Texas to interview him. They wanted to know everything about him and his family before making an offer to play for the team.
Maada recalled that the psychologist asked Canaan to name the biggest struggle or hurdle he’d ever had to overcome.
“Despite the fact that Canaan’s mother and I have been married and divorced twice — we’re still friends — Canaan said without hesitating, ‘Algebra 2.’"
“The scout and the psychologist started laughing! The psychologist said it was one of the most honest answers he’d ever heard.”
A Life-Changing Decision
A month later, the Yankees made Canaan an offer to play for one of their minor league farm teams in Tampa, the Gulf Coast League Yankees. After being set on playing for Arkansas, Canaan had a choice to make: Football or baseball? College or professional?
The Yankees said that, if he signed with them, they would pay Canaan’s tuition when he eventually decided to return to college. When they offered a $497,500 signing bonus, the decision was made.
After playing for a short while in Tampa, the Yankees transferred Canaan to their minor league team in Staten Island, New York, where he is today. The high school math skills he learned are coming in handy. He’s living in an apartment, managing his personal finances, and still trying to raise his average. His batting average, that is.
The Math of Baseball
“Math is 100 percent relevant to baseball,” Canaan said. “There’s a lot of math people who work for the Yankees. I ask the analytics guys to tell me how fast I hit and what my launch angles are. Sometimes, I do math in my head to see if I need to get my average up.”
Known as sabermetrics, the analysis of baseball statistics became widely known through the book and movie, “Moneyball.”
An Attitude of Gratitude
Last winter, while visiting his family in Texas, Canaan stopped by to give his rookie card to Becky and Bob Barnes, owners of the Mathnasium of Rockwell, and to thank them for the time and faith they invested in him.
They, in turn, praise the Mathnasium Method™ for enabling the dramatic improvements in math skills that transforms students’ lives.
“We do this because we’re called to do it and because we love it,” Becky said. “We’re constantly impressed with the quality of the Mathnasium curriculum. It’s the vehicle for success for these kids. The program is priceless.
“Canaan is just one of many,” she continued. “We had two students who were desperate, not passing, saying that they were going to drop out of school because they couldn’t do the math. We encouraged them to give us a shot. They both passed and graduated. They went to college, and now they’re headed to medical school!
Canaan credits Mathnasium for enabling him to fulfill his dream. He advises anyone looking for a kids’ math program — especially older students — to take the leap.
“If you go for the first time, don’t feel embarrassed, they’re there to help you if you put the time and energy to it. It’s a great family in there. If it weren’t for Mathnasium, I wouldn’t be in this situation at all.”
Added his father, “I swear by Mathnasium. They are excellent.”