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WMS geography bee lets young minds shine

Seventh-grader Davis Moore (left) shakes hands with Worthington Middle School Assistant Principal Tony Hastings and eighth-grader Sam Martin (right), 2014 WMS Geography Bee champion, shakes hands with Principal Jeff Luke. (RICH BESEL/SUBMITTED PHOTO)

By Jane Turpin Moore, Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — Although Nebraska is the most distant destination to which Worthington Middle School (WMS) eighth-grader Sam Martin has traveled to date, his victory in Friday’s National Geographic Bee ensures he’ll definitely be going places.

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“I’d like to go anywhere except Nebraska—that’s the furthest I’ve ever been,” joked Martin, who nailed all seven of his questions in the first round of the annual bee before advancing with nine other contestants to the final round. “The United Kingdom or India would be great.”

Martin and first runner-up Davis Moore (a WMS seventh-grader) were among 30 fifth- through eighth-grade geographic whizzes to compete in the annual bee, which was organized and proctored by WMS social studies teachers Paula Wolyniec and Sally Darling.

“These 30 represent the best of the best geography students at Worthington Middle School,” said Wolyniec to the assembled audience of parents and assorted relatives near the start of the two-hour contest.

“The entire student body—almost 800 kids—took a qualifying test, and the students before you are the ones who did the best on it.”

After seven preliminary rounds, which began with relatively easy questions (for example, “Which state has a shoreline on Lake Erie — Oklahoma or Pennsylvania?” and “Which state has a larger area of farmland —Kansas or Vermont?”) before becoming progressively more difficult (“Name the Eastern state originally founded as a Quaker colony”), the 10 participants with the most correct answers proceeded to final competition.

“I’m pleased with how well all the students did today,” praised Wolyniec. “I enjoy the geography bee, because I love geography and this is a way to encourage kids to be more interested in the subject.”

Only sixth-grader Sam Fellows, Moore and eighth graders Martin, Kelly Newman and Max Langerud remained after five of the final 10 participants (Kendrick Bickett, Blaine Doeden, Emma Hansen, Taylor McCarvel and Ian O’Donnell) were tripped up and incorrectly identified the river on which the Hoover Dam is located (the Colorado River).

Soon the competition was down to Martin and Moore, and nerves played a part in the ultimate outcome, as both boys missed the initial question posed to them in the championship round.

“I should have gone with my first instinct,” bemoaned Moore.

Both Martin and Moore have participated in the WMS National Geographic Bee in past years, and they said it was becoming easier each time.

“When I was in sixth grade, I really studied, but I didn’t study for it at all this year,” admitted Martin. Wolyniec noted that a change in the state social studies curriculum two years ago (swapping in Minnesota Studies for geography at the sixth-grade level) means that all current sixth- and seventh grade students have yet to take an actual geography class, while the current eighth-graders studied geography in both sixth grade and are in the midst of it again during the 2013-14 school year.

Martin is the son of Sarah and Ted Martin, and Sarah offered this insight into her son’s geographic mastery.

“Grandpa and Grandma have been buying Sam a National Geographic subscription since he was in second grade,” she shared.

Added her son, “I find the issues including elephants and genetics the most interesting.”

Martin’s advice to others reflects his eventual wish: “Travel around the world when you get the chance.”

Martin will take a 100-question qualifying test before Jan. 30 to determine if he will advance to the Minnesota National Geographic Bee in early April.

Three local geographic bee champions in recent memory have made it to the state bee — 2007 WHS alumnus Quentin Dudley, 2013 WHS alumnus Gordy Moore and WHS junior Oliver Wolyniec (a two-time local champion and state qualifier).

Additional participants in the 2013-14 WMS National Geographic Bee were Kalea Appel, Natalie Demuth, Anwar Farra, Sammy Farra, Tate Gaul, Michael Iverson, Khot Juac, Selomon Kebede, Adam Koller, Kent Lais, Tommy Lais, Alberto Lara Jr., Rosie Melgoza, Anna Meyer, Kyle Mullaney, Bryce Olsen, Carter Ponto, Azael Rodriguez, Colin Smidt and Tad Stewart.