Geographic Bee Champ: Michigan Ten-Year-Old

Stentor Danielson
National Geographic News
May 22, 2002

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Calvin McCarter, a homeschooled student from near Grand Rapids, Michigan, won the 2002 National Geographic Bee Wednesday at National Geographic Society Headquarters in Washington, D.C. At ten years old, Calvin was the youngest competitor, beating students who were making their second and third appearances in the finals.

Second place went to Matthew Russell of Bradford, Pennsylvania, while third was taken by Erik Miller of Kent, Washington. Calvin received a U.S. $25,000 college scholarship and a lifetime membership to the National Geographic Society. Matthew and Erik will receive $15,000 and $10,000 scholarships, respectively. The other finalists will get $500 each.

"The money's nice," Calvin said after the competition. "I just try to relax" while answering questions.

In the final round, Calvin and Matthew were both asked the same five questions. They were tied with one wrong answer each before the final question, which asked which country uses Lop Nur, a marshy depression at the eastern end of the Tarim Basin, as a nuclear test site. Calvin correctly identified China, while Matthew guessed France.

"I'm in a daze right now," Matthew said. He came in tenth in the competition two years ago, so he was happy to have done so much better this year.

In the final round of regular competition, with three contestants left, Calvin answered incorrectly while Erik Miller knew that shadow puppets were popular in Indonesia but did not give the answer until just after time ran out. In the tiebreaker, Calvin correctly said that the Kamchatka Peninsula separated the Bering Sea from the Sea of Okhotsk, but Erik did not write the complete answer.

"I was pretty nervous" during the tiebreaker, Calvin said, but afterward "I was a little relaxed because I knew at least I would be getting 15,000 [U.S. dollars]."

At the beginning of the competition, the contestants had a chance to chat with host Alex Trebek. Calvin talked about his stamp-collecting hobby. His favorite is a cold war stamp from the Soviet republic of Byelorussia (now the independent country of Belarus).

Matthew told Trebek about a prank pulled on him earlier in the year. Someone filled his locker with hundreds of Ping-Pong balls, which fell out when he opened it. "I probably did something to provoke that," he said.

If he could be anyone, Erik said he would be Keanu Reeves, "because I couldn't think of any good, honest, famous people."

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