Four students from Pierrepont School in Westport won first place honors Saturday at the annual MathCOUNTS competition, Southwest Connecticut Chapter, on the campus of Fairfield University.

They will lead a contingent of about 20 students from Fairfield County to the state MathCOUNTS championship on March 12 at the University of Hartford.

"Some of the problems were hard. I haven't taken geometry yet so when you solve a problem and you think it's hard you feel proud," said Kapil Chandran, 12, of Wilton, a member of the Pierrepont team, who also won individual honors -- fourth place in the Countdown Round and fourth place overall. He will be joined at the state championship by teammates Matthew Huggins, 13, and Jacob Klegar, 12, both of Westport, and Ally Huntley, 13.

Westport's Coleytown Middle School will also be represented at the state competition. A team of students from that school finished in fourth place overall. Zachary Kornbluth, a sixth grader, and Matt Kaye, a seventh-grade student, joined their math teacher Connie Jones on stage at Gonzaga Auditorium to accept trophies on behalf of their team.

Before the awards ceremony, one could almost see the infinite array of numbers swirling over the heads of about 140 Fairfield County regional middle schools students in the auditorium, where they were gathered for the final phase of competition in the day-long MathCOUNTS event.

It seemed like many of the students were pulling those numbers right out of the air to provide the answers to some tough questions that they were asked during the Countdown Round. That phase of competition followed the Sprint, Target and Team rounds to close out the event, which is sponsored annually by the Connecticut Society of Professional Engineers to promote math education and encourage "mathletes" to consider careers in math-related fields.

"I think it's great. There are not many places where you have an audience full of people cheering for kids doing math problems," said Michelle Lapin, one of the organizers and a member of the Connecticut Society of Professional Engineers. She called MathCOUNTS a "brain sport."

"It's nice to be recognized for your academic talents," said Jonathan Lapin, Michelle's brother, a New Jersey resident who came in for the day to help with the event.

Earlier rounds had students working individually and then in their respective teams. "In the Sprint Round you worked alone and you were not allowed to use a calculator," Ally Huntley said. The Team Round did allow calculators and collaboration with teammates.

"After about seven minutes we had eight (of ten) problems down. We spent most of our time checking the answers," Matthew Huggins said.

The Countdown Round pitted two students against each other in a Jeopardy-style format. The student who thought he or she had the correct answer rang in my depressing a button that lit up.

If they answered incorrectly their competitor had a chance but if they also gave a wrong answer, the moderator threw the question to the audience.

The students from Pierrepont School said they will continue to train for the state competition by participating in the weekly MathCOUNTS practices. Their teacher Sheila Sundaram said they will work on the Countdown Round "to get them used to the speed and technique."

Steven Xu, 13, of Bedford Middle School in Westport, came to the event as an individual rather than a team player. "I thought it would be fun. It's a break from the monotony," he said.

Joseph B. Dennin, a mathematics professor at Fairfield University, which has hosted the regional MathCOUNTS event for the last 14 years, said it's good for math students to meet other students who share their interests.