Bates on top of the world at WMS Geography Bee

WORTHINGTON -- In just over two hours on Tuesday morning, 35 fifth- through eighth-graders at Worthington Middle School (WMS) crisscrossed the world, progressing from the United States to Suriname, Siberia and South Africa -- and back again.

Nine students qualified for the final round of the WMS 2016 Geography Bee, including (from left), Mariah Hennings, Elijah Bates, Jenna Hoffman, Gabrielle Chapulis, Tommy Lais, Tate Gaul, Rosie Melgoza, Matthew Becker and Cody Vorasane. (Jane Turpin Moore/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON - In just over two hours on Tuesday morning, 35 fifth- through eighth-graders at Worthington Middle School (WMS) crisscrossed the world, progressing from the United States to Suriname, Siberia and South Africa - and back again.

  While the travel was all in their heads, that’s exactly where it needed to be, for they were competing in the annual WMS Geography Bee. The bee tests the knowledge of the qualifying students who notched the highest scores on a short exam earlier this quarter.

  When every continent and ocean had been explored, seventh -rader Elijah Bates came out on top as the 2016 school champion.

  “I redeemed myself from last year,” said Bates, the son of Leslie and Ethan Bates, Worthington, who was the 2015 runner-up.

  This year, that slot went to eighth-grader Tommy Lais, son of Geno and Sarah Lais. Lais had competed in the geography bee as a fifth-grader but realized he’d learned enough in the intervening years - especially in his seventh grade U.S. history class - to help his performance Tuesday.


  “I got lucky,” he sheepishly admitted. “I didn’t do very well in this when I was in fifth grade, but it was more manageable now.

  “It feels good to be a runner-up.”

  Tuesday marked Bates’ third appearance in the academically oriented contest, and his experience was noticeable; he was the only one of the 35 competitors to emerge from the seven preliminary rounds with an unblemished record.

  In categories including “History Happens,” “Ocean Wonders,” “Odd One Out” and “World of Science,” each student took his or her turn at answering, sometimes responding to questions asking them to determine which state was further north or south than another, which country a particular river ran through or whether “fauna” was the correct term for animal life in a certain region.

  Intense concentration was evident on the students’ faces as the names of states and countries whizzed by - Italy, Australia, Japan, the Netherlands, Canada, Hawaii, South Carolina, England, Nicaragua and many others were all part of the contest.

  Bee coordinators (WMS social studies teachers Paula Wolyniec and Sally Darling) alternated as the inquisitors, and they nodded either an encouraging “That is correct,” or a sympathetic “I’m sorry, that is incorrect,” to each response.

  The two teachers have been involved with the bee for numerous years, and Wolyniec explained why.

  “In today’s world, we can send instantaneous messages around the globe and order almost anything from anywhere on the planet,” she reflected.


  “Even so, I’m constantly amazed at how poor our general knowledge of geography is. Learning about other places and cultures is not only fun, it’s crucial to building a better world, and this bee is one way we can encourage our kids to be excited about geography.”

  That excitement showed on the faces of many student contestants. Although they didn’t make it to the final round, four fifth-grade boys (Caden Van Briesen, Dylan Dykstra, Logan Powers and Ben Schreiber) were enthusiastic about their first try at the geography bee and remained in the school’s media center after they bowed out to listen to the remaining questions and witness the eventual outcome.

  “Was this fun?” inquired a reporter.

  “Yeah!” they chorused in spirited fashion, likely having enjoyed the lead-ins to questions that included interesting facts such as the turquoise McDonald’s arches in Sedona, Ariz., and the habit male kangaroos have of flexing their biceps to impress females.

  When the seven preliminary rounds concluded, a tiebreaker was necessary to whittle down the contestants for the final round.

  Automatic final round qualifiers, based on their preliminary round scores, were Bates, Lais, seventh-grader Matthew Becker and eighth-graders Rosie Melgoza and Tate Gaul. Cody Vorasane (sixth grade), seventh-graders Jenna Hoffman and Gabrielle Chapulis and eighth-grader Mariah Hennings later joined them after surviving the tiebreaker questions.

  Melgoza and Becker were the last two eliminated before the championship round was established between Bates and Lais.

  Going head to head, Lais and Bates tackled questions probing their knowledge of a location involving a new U.S. marine national monument, the country currently hosting an ongoing archaeological excavation for an ancient lost city and the Asian home of an endangered species.


  Bates netted two out of three correct answers to claim the championship, having faulted on only one other question in the entire bee (during the final round).

  Bates, an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy novels who says his favorite subjects are history, geography and music, is primed to take an online qualifying exam prior to Feb. 6 to determine if he can attend the state-level National Geography Bee contest on March 31.

  “He [Elijah] was raring to go today,” agreed Wolyniec following the event. “He did a phenomenal job.”

  Bates modestly replied, “These are fun things to learn about.”


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