York seventh-grader beats Old Town sixth-grader in geography bee

Posted April 01, 2011, at 9:10 p.m.
Last modified April 03, 2011, at 5:39 p.m.

FARMINGTON, Maine — A York seventh-grader topped nearly 100 students from all over the state Friday to win the 23rd annual National Geographic Bee for Maine.

After answering questions about states, countries, rivers and tunnels through a preliminary and finalist round, Benjamin MacLean, 13, of York had the right answer when he needed it most.

He took the win over sixth-grader Zachary Williams, 11, of Old Town in the championship round after third-place winner, eighth-grader Caleb Mullen, 14, of South Bristol, missed a question.

An April Fools’ Day storm didn’t keep most of the expected 100 students from making the trek to Farmington to compete. They ranked tops on a geography test given to about 3,000 fourth- to eighth-grade students across the state. Preliminary rounds brought the number down to 10 finalists, and then MacLean and Williams vied for the championship.

Bee coordinator was Brian Cushing, a National Geographic Society teacher consultant. The event was held at the University of Maine at Farmington. The same competition took place in all 50 states Friday.

Cushing and University of Maine at Farmington President Theodora Kalikow welcomed students and parents in a packed auditorium before the rounds began.

The top winners of each state earned the opportunity to represent their state on May 25-26 in the national competition at the National Geographic Society’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.

Not only will MacLean represent Maine, but bee sponsor Plum Creek also awarded an expense-paid trip to his parents so they could go with him. Google helped sponsor the national event.

MacLean won $100; Williams, $75; and Mullen, $50.

The first-place national winner competes for a $25,000 college scholarship and other prizes, including a trip to the Galapagos Islands and a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society.

As students all dressed in brown T-shirts separated for the five preliminary rounds, moderator Greg Huang-Dale, a teacher from Fryeburg Academy, told one group their first job was to relax, enjoy themselves and maybe learn something.

The National Geographic questions aimed to test their knowledge. It was easier maybe for the students than for some parents watching them.

Brett and Sara Bowden of Orrington waited in the Student Center hall while their son Ben competed.

“As a parent you’re proud, but you don’t want to see them hurt,” she said, admitting that she was too nervous to sit and watch.

Of the 100 students, only about 10 were girls. It’s like that at the national bee too, Cushing said. The National Geographic is starting a study on why.

After the preliminaries, 10 students, eight boys and two girls, competed in the finals.

“You’re all winners, already,” Bee Master Matthew Ward told the 10 finalists.

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