OLD TOWN, Maine — Mainers can be proud of Conor Millard, a sixth-grader at Leonard Middle School. Conor, 12, represented the state of Maine and was one of just 14 students — out of 55 participants and about 5 million local-level contenders — to advance beyond the preliminary round at the 2009 National Geographic Bee this week in Washington, D.C.
“I’ve always liked geography a lot,” Conor said Friday in a telephone interview. He credits his teachers with nurturing his interest in world cultures from an early age, including the teachers at the Stillwater Montessori School, where he was enrolled through fifth grade.
The geography bee got under way on Tuesday. The 55 students — representing each of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Pacific Territories and Department of Defense Dependents Schools — were divided randomly into five groups of 11 students each. In separate rooms, the groups worked through nine rounds of questions.
According to Jon Doty, one of Conor’s teachers at Leonard Middle School, questions in the preliminary competition included:
• Laguna del Carbon, the lowest location in South America at 343 feet below sea level, is located in the Patagonian region of which country? (Argentina)
• In 2006, the World Trade Organization instituted a resolution regarding the breaking of patents on medicines. The rule is named after the city where the WTO meeting was held, a capital on a gulf peninsula. What is that city? (Doha)
“There were only three people who got all nine answers right,” Conor said. “There were 11 others who had scores of eight.”
Conor was one of those 11, and participated in a tie-breaker round to determine a total of 10 finalists. He didn’t make it to the finals, but Doty, who accompanied the youngster to the bee, said his pupil’s performance was “absolutely amazing.”
“He did a great job of keeping his cool and enjoying the experience,” Doty said.
What was the tiebreaker question that tripped Conor up?
“What former OPEC [Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries] country, the only one in Southeast Asia, lost its membership because it became an oil importer instead of an oil exporter?” Conor said. “I said it was Brunei, but it was Indonesia.”
Conor said he was disappointed not to progress to the finals, but he was pleased that he did as well as he did.
“I was pretty surprised, especially since this was my first year at the national bee,” he said. About half of the contestants had participated at least once before, he said.
In addition to reading a lot and paying attention to world events, Conor said he prepared for the bee by printing out and reading information on each of the almost 200 nations in the world.
“I read through about 150,” he said. He also took the daily geography quiz posted on the Web site of the National Geographic Society, which sponsors the national bee.
Conor, who has participated in state and local geography bees for the past three years, won this year’s Maine state competition in April. He and Doty were flown to Washington at the expense of the National Geographic Society. Conor’s parents, Paul Millard and Carol Kim of Old Town, also accompanied their son to the bee. Their trip included a tour of the Capitol and a visit to the office of U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe.
Doty said about 5 million schoolchildren participated at local geography bees across the nation this year.
The winner of the 2009 National Geographic Bee was 13-year-old Eric Yang of The Colony, Texas. The winning question was: Timi County shares its name with a tributary of the Danube and is located in the western part of which European country? The correct answer: Romania.