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Seventh-grade Saravia wins WMS geography bee

Thirty-five students competed Wednesday for geography title

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The top three finishers were (from left) sixth-grader Austin Kinser, seventh-grader Lauryn Ahlers and seventh-grader Emanuel Saravia. Saravia will take a 100-point multiple choice test in the next month to determine if he qualifies for the state-level geography bee in the spring. (Submitted photo by Sarah Darling)

WORTHINGTON — Emanuel Saravia didn’t get a lot of sleep Tuesday night.

Between a wrestling meet and homework, the Worthington Middle School seventh-grader wasn’t tucked into bed until at least 11:30 p.m.

“But I was nervous because I’d procrastinated, so I got up at 6 a.m. and started reviewing geography challenge questions on my iPad,” said Saravia.

Tired or not, the strategy proved successful because the geography-savvy Saravia emerged as champion of the 2019 WMS Geography Bee by 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Thirty-five fifth- through eighth-grade WMS students — those who had qualified for the local competition by logging the highest scores on a general knowledge geography test administered to all WMS students in the fall — competed in seven preliminary rounds before the field was narrowed to nine.

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“There are over 1,000 students in this building,” said Paula Wolyniec, who coordinated the bee with colleague Sally Darling, “and there are 35 of you here today.

“To get to this point is quite a feat, and you should all feel good about yourselves because you already have a solid base of geography knowledge.”

Bee questions started with relatively easy options for most of the students — for instance, “Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in the Chihuahuan Desert in which state — New Mexico or Iowa?”

However, as the rounds advanced, with titles such as “Weird but True,” “The Last Wild Places” and “Odd One Out,” the focused students gradually began missing more answers as the questions grew more difficult — like, “Estancias is the term for large cattle ranches in the second largest country by area in South America. Name this country.”

When the dust of the first seven rounds had settled, seven students (eighth-graders Waylon Crooks, Hugo Garcia, Randy Garcia, Ben Schreiber and Anthony Towns, plus sixth-graders Austin Kinser and Jackson Fouch) were automatic qualifiers for the top 10.

The eventual champion Saravia, however, had missed one question too many in the early rounds and found himself in a tiebreaker with six other students to secure one of the remaining three slots.

When five of those competitors fell to the wayside, Saravia and fellow seventh-grader Lauryn Ahlers were the only two to successfully join the first seven finalists.

Three students were then eliminated after two missed answers, and then two more (including Towns, the 2018 WMS Geography Bee titleist). Kinser and Crooks were forced into a showdown to determine the third-place entrant; Kinser won that battle.

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Somewhat ironically, the championship round came down to Ahlers and Saravia, who had initially made it into the top nine via the seven-student tiebreaker but coolly delivered correct answers thereafter.

In the two-person finale, the seventh-graders tackled questions involving U.S. states, waterways and European cities. Ultimately, Saravia served up two correct answers while Ahlers faltered.

Having correctly volunteered the names of many continents, countries and cities throughout the course of the more than two-hour contest, the top three contestants were praised by their proctors as the morning concluded.

“You’ve all done a fantastic job today,” affirmed Wolyniec, noting that Saravia — the fifth-place contender in the 2018 WMS Geography Bee, and the first runner-up in the 2017 contest as a fifth-grader — will now have the chance to take a 100-question multiple choice test to see if he can qualify for the state-level geography bee in the spring.

It’s not surprising that the top three finishers all claim to enjoy reading, with three-time WMS Geography Bee participant Ahlers (the daughter of Jared and Heidi Ahlers) citing fiction as her favorite.

Kinser, the son of Jensine and Aaron Kinser, similarly likes fiction, as well as history. He offered a bit of insight to his 2019 contest approach.

“I was very nervous at the start of the bee, but I calmed down after realizing being nervous wouldn’t help,” said Kinser.

Saravia, whose parents are Kevin and Erika Saravia, also credited family trips to places like New Mexico and California with advancing his geographic knowledge.

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The Minnesota State Geography Bee will take place on March 27, 2020. First-place winners from each state will advance to national competition.

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