Washington State Eighth Grader Wins National Geographic Bee

Jennifer Vernon
for National Geographic News
May 21, 2003

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Fourteen-year-old James Williams, a homeschooled student from Vancouver, Washington, won the 2003 National Geographic Bee at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C., this morning after stiff competition from runner-up Dallas Simons, 13, of Martin Luther King Magnet School in Nashville, Tennessee.

Moderated by Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek, the ten finalists from yesterday's preliminary rounds answered a challenging array of questions designed to narrow the field of competitors to just two.

The finalists had 12 seconds to answer questions with oral, visual, and video clues, with elimination after two misses. The first question was answered correctly by all ten; the second by only three. The third question eliminated contestants from Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, and Ohio. Subsequent questions eliminated Oregon, Rhode Island, and Arkansas. After seven questions, only three contestants remained: Sean Rao, Wisconsin; Dallas Simons, Tennessee; and James Williams, Washington.

Rao, a two-time Wisconsin state champion from St. Gabriel School in Hubertus, was eliminated on question eight, but received a U.S. $10,000 college scholarship for his advancement to third place.

The slate cleared, Simons and Williams moved on to the championship match. At the end of the official five questions, the two were still tied. It required not one, but two, subsequent questions to break the tie. Williams ultimately came out ahead by answering the following question correctly: "Goa, a state in southwestern India, was a possession of which country until 1961?" (Answer: Portugal).

Simons, the runner-up, received a U.S. $15,000 college scholarship. "I feel wonderful," said Simons. "I can't believe I got this far."

As the 2003 National Geographic Bee Champion, Williams was awarded a U.S. $25,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership to National Geographic, and one week at Sea World-Busch Gardens Adventure camp, presented by corporate sponsor ING.

"I'm glad it's over," Williams admitted afterwards. "It was really hard to not be nervous, especially at the end!" Williams, who just came from the National Science Olympiad in Ohio last week, will be representing Washington state again in June at the National Science Bowl.

All ten Bee finalists from 2002 and 2003 will have the chance to be selected for the three-person team to represent the U.S. at the biennual National Geographic World Championship this July 15-16 at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida. The Championship will include 18 countries and be conducted in nine languages. The U.S. is the defending title holder.

The National Geographic Channel will broadcast the finals today at 5 p.m. ET. Filmed in partnership with Maryland Public Television, the finals can also be viewed subsequently on public television stations around the United States (see local listings for details).

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