FARMINGTON – The children at the front of the room seemed the most composed of anyone – sitting quietly and answering questions with only a slight tremor in their voices to betray nerves.
For the audience at the 18th annual National Geographic and JP Morgan Chase State Geography Bee, however, it was a different story. Parents, grandparents, siblings and friends whispered noisily and made gestures of amazement each time the young competitors – all in the fourth-through-eighth-grades – answers questions that stymied even the school teachers in the audience.
School teachers Rose and Tom White of Lincoln, whose eighth-grade son, Ethan, was a competitor, shook their heads when the students answered some of the harder questions correctly – things like, what oil rich province in Russia was conquered by Ivan the Terrible (Siberia), and what Middle Eastern country bordering the Caspian Sea is the world’s biggest producer of pistachio nuts (Iran).
When one of the bee moderators accidentally mispronounced Monaco in a question, which the contestant subsequently answered wrong, the audience revolted, demanding a second question be asked. After 10 minutes of back-and-forth with bee organizers, a second question was asked, and when the competitor in question answered correctly, the room erupted into applause.
The state bee is the last qualifying match before the National Bee, held in Washington, D.C., this May. To qualify for the state event, students must win their school’s bee and then score in the top 100 on a written geography test. For the first time Friday, the state event was held at the University of Maine in Farmington, and organized by Sharon Cram of Wilton with the aid of UMF students, faculty and administration, who provided the facilities for the gathering.
For Cram, a first-time bee organizer, “it’s exciting to see a mixture of grades working together for a common interest – they all love geography.” She said a knowledge of what makes the world tick is “the key to learning how to be a better world citizen.”
Eighth-grader Ethan White has a different perspective on the event.
“It was better than going to school,” he joked.
But, he added, seriously, “I went to see what it was like,” and “to see how good I could do – I wanted to test myself, and this year I did as best as I could.”
He did well, getting six of the eight questions correct and just missing qualifying for the final-round tiebreaker. He said while he enjoys geography, he likes sports better. Geography “sticks with me a lot,” and “I like to know all the country names.”
White’s mother Rose explained her son “just seems to have a knack” for geography, and practiced a bit before the bee itself by reading atlases each night before bed. She said she thought the bee was “a great experience for him. I’m very proud of him.”
The top-scoring contestants were seventh-grader Adam Meservier of Lewiston, in third place; eighth-grader Christian Schneider of Brunswick, in second place; and eighth-grader Alexander Homer of Ellsworth, in first, said Cram.
Homer will compete in the National Geography Bee in Washington this May, and also won $100 and a globe. Schneider and Meservier received globes and $75 and $50, respectively.