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