By May 23, the contestants had been narrowed down to the 55 state and territory Bee champions, 10 of whomall boyswon through from the semifinals in Washington on Tuesday to compete in the championship round moderated by game show host Alex Trebek.
This year's competition required contestants to answer such geographic stumpers as what eastern Caribbean nation is the lead exporter of nutmeg (Grenada) and from which region of Spain does flamenco music originate (Andalusia). The contestants, all students from 4th through 8th grade, also were asked to make topographic analogies, tagging mountain ranges and climatic features to specific countries and regions.
Many contestants like runner-up Jachowski gave up their time after school and on weekends to prepare for the Bee by spending hours combing through encyclopedias and pouring over maps. Ferguson took classes at Stanford University where he received tutoring from geography professors.
Haddad-Fonda said he filled several notebooks with geographic trivia and technical terms to study for the Bee.
"I tried to focus on different areas of geography, especially physical," he said. "I went through a dictionary of geography and ended up with 17 pages of terms to learn. My mom said 'You can't learn all that.'"
But it was in the first few pages of this book where Kyle came across the word "ablation," a zone within a glacier, and the subject of the final question that helped him to stop the competition cold.
"Kids who've been here in the past and want to come back, they work harder and it shows," said National Geographic Bee Director Mary Lee Elden. "I think [the Bee] encouraged teachers to teach geography. The colleges are now telling us students are coming in wanting to take geography, so they have to have professors to teach it. It's going to keep geography in the forefront."
This year's Bee included two physically challenged state champions, a first for the competition. One of the students, 14-year-old Paul Ruffner of Arizona, who is blind, became a top ten finalist.
Thirteen students taking part in this year's competition were repeat state winners, three competing for the third time. Only two girls, both 14 years old, made it to the semifinals this year.
"A Dream Come True"
Kyle Haddad-Fonda's love of geography probably started around age three, said his father, Rob Fonda, a maritime lawyer, who would often take his son on trips with him to Paris and London.
When the Goodwill Games came to Seattle in 1990, Kyle was fascinated with the parade of international flags posted in the city. But watching a televised National Geographic Bee nine years ago really got Kyle rearing to join the competition, his father said.
"He was chomping at the bit to be old enough to compete," said Fonda. "This has been an absolute labor of love for him for three years at national, and for all five years he's competed at the state level, and he just loves ita dream come true for him. A dream come true for a parent.
Kyle and runner-up Jachowski will go on to represent the United States in the International Geographic Olympiad in Canada later this year. This competition is also organized by the National Geographic Society.
But before that, Kyle will be embarking on another world adventuretraveling with his mother, Laura Haddad, to Syria and Jordan, to visit the birthplace of his grandfather.
"We're going to go to Aleppo, Damascus and Petra. That'll be a fun trip," Kyle said.
Kyle is not only about learning geography. He also plays classical harp and takes part in track. If he was ruler of the world, he said, he'd protect all sites of antiquity. But he does not know yet where he would like to go to college or what he wants to study.
"Geography is important to me," he said. "It's important for understanding who we are and where we are, and the world around us."
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