WORTHINGTON – Experience ruled the day at Worthington Middle School’s 2021 Geography Bee, which took place Thursday morning in the school’s media center.

With 23 students participating, three of the six qualifying eighth graders claimed the top three spots — one of whom, Emanuel Saravia, repeated as champion.

“Experience came in handy,” affirmed Saravia, who also noted that Global Studies and mathematics are his favorite classes.

Jacari Swinea, a three-year WMS Geo Bee competitor and the 2021 runner-up, added, “I was a little nervous at first and didn’t really expect to be in second place.”

But Saravia, Swinea and third-place finisher Lauryn Ahlers nevertheless appeared calm and confident throughout the seven preliminary rounds, with Ahlers and Swinea nailing five of their first seven questions and Saravia emerging with a perfect score of seven.

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“I’m proud of all of you,” praised WMS teacher Paula Wolyniec, who coordinated the bee along with her colleague Derek Schmitz.

“There are 23 participants here and over 1,000 students in this building. You each did well on the qualifying test you took in your social studies classes, and I urge you to keep learning geography; I think it’s the most exciting subject.”

The eager contestants — five fifth-graders, four sixth-graders, eight seventh-graders and six eighth-graders—seemed pleased to be back in action onsite after nearly a year of largely remote learning opportunities.

“I like in-person learning a lot more,” said Ahlers after the match. “You can’t get your questions answered as easily remotely and you hardly get to know your teachers.”

Adequately spaced out and wearing masks, the students tackled questions Wolyniec recycled from the 2012 National Geography Bee since pandemic restrictions and cancellations are keeping contests at the state and national level from unfolding this year.

Still, nerves were evident among some, as seven contenders missed their initial questions in the comparatively easy opening category of U.S. Geography.

“Which state borders Quebec, Canada—Vermont or Missouri?” and “Which state is covered in permafrost — Hawaii or Alaska?” are two examples from the early rounds.

They quickly found their footing, with only two students failing to score a point in Round 2, which also tested U.S. geographic knowledge.

Most contestants performed well in Round 3, which quizzed them about U.S. state nicknames (for example, “Which state is known as the Sunshine State: Florida or Washington?”); more difficult was Round 4, with students required to volunteer specific continents based on sometimes tricky clues.

Saravia, Swinea and Ahlers had the company of five others (fifth-grader Alexia Jimenez, sixth-graders Nadia Gebremariam and Dominic Meier, seventh-grader Oscar Jimenez Lopez and fellow eighth-grade contender Alondra Leon Flores) in the final competition.

Within that final round, the first question referencing a map proved unsolvable for all but the three ultimate contestants. Ahlers was the last to exit before Saravia and Swinea were tapped for the championship showdown.

Saravia secured his victory with the correct answer — Chile — to a query involving the Yaghan tribe, peoples indigenous to the islands near Tierra del Fuego.

Coincidentally, the eighth-graders were receiving instruction about their high school registration process on the geography bee day.

“I’m thinking about engineering as a possible career so I’m considering registering for AP Human Geography and accelerated geometry,” said Saravia.

Not surprisingly, Saravia’s geo bee rivals also confirmed their intent to pursue AP Human Geography, and their similar commitments to continuing to excel academically.

“My mom is a counselor, so she’s on me all the time,” laughed Swinea. “But I want to keep working hard in both athletics and academics so I can go to a Division I college.”

Contributed Ahlers, “My parents want me to do well — and I don’t want to have bad grades, either.”

Their tips for future would-be geography winners?

“You’ve got to study and it will pay off,” suggested Swinea.

Saravia chipped in, “Do well in school, study and do exercises to make it entertaining and it will help you a lot.”