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Bates rates first in WMS Geography Bee

Top finishers in the Worthington Middle School 2017 National Geographic Bee were (from left) first runner-up Emanuel Saravia and champion Elijah Bates. Bates will take an exam in the coming weeks to determine if he qualifies for the state geography bee. (Submitted photo by Paula Wolyniec)1 / 3
The top nine finalists in the 2017 WMS geography bee were (front row, left to right) Andrew Dorcey, Bungire Bangath, Elijah Bates, Jenna Hoffman, Jordan Smith, Estuardo Garcia; (back row, left to right), Lauryn Ahlers, Emanuel Saravia, Cody Vorasane. (Submitted photo by Paula Wolyniec)2 / 3
Shown is the group of 34 competitors that participated in Wednesday's Geography Bee at Worthington Middle School. (Submitted photo by Paula Wolyniec)3 / 3

WORTHINGTON — For the second consecutive year, Elijah Bates is the champion of the Worthington Middle School (WMS) geography bee.

Now an eighth-grader, Bates conquered enough of the challenging questions — such as, “The easternmost part of the horn of Africa is located in which country?” — to emerge the victor from the field of 34 fifth- through eighth-grade competitors. The bee occurred on Wednesday in the WMS media center.

“I’ve liked maps since I was four, so that helps a lot,” said Bates, a geography bee veteran with four years of contests under his belt.

First runner-up was first-time competitor Emanuel Saravia, a fifth-grader who grinned from ear to ear while celebrating his second-place finish.

“It was nerve-wracking at first,” admitted Saravia, the son of Erika Saravia and Kevin Miller, “but then I started getting the hang of it.”

Saravia admits to being a good student and a fan of the “Rush Revere” adventure series — and that he took time to prepare for the bee by reading the National Geographic Bee’s study guide and looking at maps.

“I watch the news with my dad, too,” he added.

The bee, coordinated and proctored by WMS teachers Sally Darling and Paula Wolyniec, involved 34 contestants who had top scores in the school’s preliminary qualifying exam.

“All of the students did very well in the first seven rounds,” said Wolyniec, mentioning that the initial rounds of questions offered multiple choice answers.

“The last couple rounds were more difficult because students have to volunteer their own answers rather than select them, but we had nine students with six or seven correct answers.”

Those surviving questions that ran the gamut from easier (for example, “The North Platte and South Platte Rivers meet in which state — New Mexico or Nebraska?”) to arguably difficult (“Public steam baths called ‘hammams’ are part of the culture in cities such as Casablanca and Marrakech in which African country?”) and proceeding to the final round were Bates, Saravia, Cody Vorasane, Andrew Dorcey, Bungire Bangath, Jenna Hoffman, Jordan Smith, Estuardo Garcia and Lauryn Ahlers.

“Most of the other contestants stayed to observe the rest of the bee; I love to see kids excited about geography,” said Wolyniec, who also noted that students in some other WMS classrooms watched the bee via live feed.

Vorasane, a seventh-grader, landed in third place after outlasting all but Saravia and Bates.

Bates exercised his seniority by besting Saravia in two out of the three championship round questions, which dealt with a watery boundary between U.S. states, an ocean and international islands.

In the coming weeks, Bates will take a qualifying exam to determine if he can make it to the state geography bee on April 6, 2018. The top 100 scorers in the state advance, and last year Bates didn’t quite make the cut.

“It’s tough to advance to state,” said Wolyniec, mentioning that only four previous WMS geography bee champions have mastered that feat.

However, as an experienced geography bee competitor (Bates was a final round contestant as a fifth-grader and first runner-up in sixth grade, before clinching the school title both last year and this), Bates is more aware of the pitfalls that await him on the exam and is thus hopeful of his odds this year.

“I know what to look for,” said Bates, the son of Ethan and Leslie Bates. “I’ve got to study more rivers and other obscure items.”

This is the 30th anniversary year of the National Geographic Bee, which annually awards a first-prize scholarship of $50,000 to the national winner.  Second- and third-place finishers at the national level receive $25,000 and $10,000 college scholarships, respectively.

People interested in testing their knowledge on the types of questions the WMS students faced may visit www.nationalgeographic.org/bee/study/quiz to try a free online quiz.

Oh, and the answer to the question presented in this article’s second paragraph?

It’s Somalia.

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