There was a decided hush Friday in the Brookland Banquet and Conference Center as the 10 finalists stepped onto the platform for the National Geographic Bee’s state level competition.
The competitors had maneuvered their way through the preliminary rounds by mentally maneuvering their way across the globe – without the help of a GPS.
But their biggest test was just beginning.
• The Chungyand Mountains dominate the eastern part of what island in the western Pacific Ocean?
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• In the 1500s, sailors from the Basque region of Europe established a whaling station on the Strait of Belle Isle in what present-day county?
• Which Belgian city is often referred to as the capital of Europe because it houses the main institutions of the European Union?
And so it continued for several rounds as the fourth- through eighth-graders competed for the right to represent the state at the National Geographic event May 19-21 in Washington, D.C.
“I really hope they realize that importance of geography in their everyday lives,” said Richland Northeast High School world geography teacher Charles Vaughan, who coordinated this year’s state event. “We live in a world that is interconnected.”
Krish Patel, an eighth-grader at Pinewood Prep in Summerville, won Friday’s state qualifier from among nearly 100 competitors to advance to the national event for the fourth straight year.
Summit Parkway Middle School sixth-grader Aidan Rodgers placed second and Gerrett Kelly of Lang Middle School in Mount Pleasant finished third.
Krish successfully identified what sea in the Arctic Ocean separates the Taymyr Peninsula from the Novaya Zemlya archipelago to claim Friday’s title.
He said he’d briefly considered “Laptez “before giving the correct response: The Kara Sea.
“I just read my Atlas all the time,” the four-time winner said of his wins, adding he supplements that reading with online research and lots of practice questions.
Krish and his parents will receive an expense-paid trip to the National Bee, where he hopes to improve on last year’s 11th-place finish.
Friday’s statewide event coincided with more than 50 other state and territorial qualifiers taking place nationwide.
To qualify, students had to win their individual school events and take a qualifying test provided by the national organization. A winner from each state and territory will advance to the national finals.
The National Geographic Society, which provides questions for the competition, hopes to combat what it calls a lack of geographic knowledge among young people. A 2006 National Geographic-Roper Public Affairs Geographic Literacy Study showed that after Hurricane Katrina, one-third of respondents ages 18-24 could not locate Louisiana on a U.S. map, and only 40 percent could find Iraq on a map of the Middle East.
Hand Middle School language arts and history teacher Caren Hazelwood said such knowledge is crucial to helping students develop a fuller appreciation of their place in the world.
“The geography helps us make more human connections,” Hazelwood said. “They need to understand the vastness of the world ... and to appreciate the differences in people.”