- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2008

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Not only did 11-year-old Akshay Rajagopal know that Cochabamba was a city in Bolivia, he also didn´t stumble when National Geographic Bee host Alex Trebek referred to it as the South American nation´s third-largest conurbation (a large, densely populated urban area).

The Lincoln, Neb., middle-schooler´s correct answer clinched the 20th annual geography bee competition yesterday in the District, which gave him a $25,000 scholarship and capped a two-day event in which he got every question right.

Akshay answered questions that included the western-most Asian national capital (Ankara in Turkey), the country where Makossa is a popular type of music (Cameroon) and the location of Tillya Tepe (it’s in Afghanistan.)

“Some of them were hard, but others were OK,” he said of the questions, while holding an oversized, $25,000 check. “I think I was just lucky.”

The six months of studying geography DVDs and textbooks helped, too.

“He’s been interested in geography since he was 5,” said Akshay’s mother, Suchitra, who with her family attended the event at the National Geographic Society headquarters on 17th Street Northwest.

One student from every U.S. state and territory, along with a student from a military family, took part in the competition held by National Geographic. Ten made it to the finals, all of them boys.

Mr. Trebek, host of TV game show “Jeopardy!”, has moderated the bee for all 20 years.

He calls the event the “national annual humiliation” because he thinks it shows how the group of middle-schoolers has vastly more knowledge about geography than most others. A 2006 study sponsored in part by National Geographic found a third of Americans ages 18 to 24 could not find Louisiana on a map, even after Hurricane Katrina.

“The kids never cease to amaze us,” Mr. Trebek said.

Akshay, a sixth-grader at Lux Middle School in Lincoln, was the youngest of the 10 finalists, the rest of them eighth-graders. He signed autographs for the other competitors after his win.

The finalists’ hobbies were as wide-ranging as their geography knowledge. One was an outdoor survivalist, three play the clarinet, another practices archery with pizza boxes as targets. The runner-up, Hunter Bledsoe, 13, of Trussville, Ala., is teaching himself Latin.

Akshay is considering a career that involves geography. But as an 11-year-old, he has some time to make up his mind. For now, he just likes to study the globe.

“I get to learn about the world and how it works, which is cool,” he said.