- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2005

A home-schooled boy from Minnesota who scored 1520 on his lone SAT attempt won the 17th annual National Geographic Bee yesterday.

Nathaniel Cornelius, 13, from Cottonwood, Minn., defeated Karan Takhar, a 14-year-old from East Providence, R.I., in a sudden-death tiebreaker round.

After the two boys correctly answered five questions, Nathaniel clinched the title by knowing the name of the river that was dammed to create Lake Gatun, an artificial lake on the Panama Canal system. (The answer: Chagres River.)

As the winner, Nathaniel received $500, a $25,000 college scholarship and a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society.

“I was a little nervous in the championship round,” Nathaniel said. “But there wasn’t really any questions where I didn’t know the answer.”

The 10 students who participated in the final round at National Geographic’s Grosvenor Auditorium in Northwest defeated 45 other semifinalists Tuesday and came from a field of 5 million competitors.

Nathaniel, a seventh-grader who is home-schooled with the Marshall Area Christian Home Educators’ Association, plays the piano and classical guitar. He represented Minnesota in the past two national bees.

His toughest question came in the preliminary rounds when he had to map out sites of earthquakes, he said.

Craig Cornelius said he and his wife, Michele, fostered their son’s affinity for geography by supplying him with books and atlases, but attributes Nathaniel’s success mostly to his passion for the subject.

“He just loves geography,” Mr. Cornelius said. “It’s a natural gift. We can’t really take credit for it.”

Karan, an eighth-grader at the Gordon School who has represented Rhode Island for the third time this year in the bee, received $500 and a $15,000 scholarship.

Visibly deflated by the defeat, Karan said he was unnerved by the pressure and felt confident about his chances.

“I felt fine going into the last round,” Karan said. “I wasn’t focusing on Nathan’s answers … but the last question, I had no clue and made my best guess. But I’m still happy. I’ll take $15,000.”

Samuel Brandt, an eighth-grader at Roosevelt Middle School in Eugene, Ore., took a third-place finish. He won a $10,000 scholarship.

“I thought I had a good chance to win,” said the 13-year-old, who also competed in the previous two national bees. “But this is the first time I’ve been in the final 10, and the pressure is far more than before.”

Alex Trebek, the host of “Jeopardy,” was the moderator of the bee. He marveled how tightly contested the final round was between Nathaniel and Karan.

“I thought I’d be reading [tiebreaker] questions until my 70th birthday,” Mr. Trebek quipped.

The final 10 students on Tuesday were chosen in a semifinal round from 55 state-level winners. All 10 finalists were boys.

To reach the semifinals, each student had to win the title in his or her home state, the District, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the U.S. Pacific territories or in Department of Defense Dependents schools.

Each state competition was the culmination of a process that began with about 5 million fourth- through eighth-graders in nearly 15,000 schools across the country.

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