- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Before he gets into bed every night, 14-year-old John Rice spends hours staring at a map of the world.
Yesterday, this unusual exercise paid off for the home-schooled teen from Maddock, N.D., who became one of 10 students from around the country, including four home-schoolers, to advance to the finals in the National Geographic Geography Bee.
The organizers of the contest estimate that 5 million fifth- to eighth-graders participated in local- and state-level contests leading up to the finals, which will be held in the District today. The winner will receive a $25,000 college scholarship.
Fifty-five students one from each state and territory of the United States yesterday battled through nine grueling rounds of questions and several more tiebreakers that required knowledge of facts like "Erech was a great city located in present-day Iraq," and "the Garifuna people live in fishing villages along the coast of Honduras."
The children fielded the questions with relative ease. "It is amazing children know more and more these days," said Ellen Siskind, a spokeswoman for the event. "What seemed [like] really tough questions 10 years ago seem so basic to these children."
John, who studied people, places and provinces for three hours every day, beamed with relief after making it to the finals. "I was really hoping I would. I studied a lot harder this year," said the teen, who has been a finalist for the past two years, and tied for fourth place in 2000. He said being home-schooled worked to his advantage because he could "get up early, get all my math done, and devote myself to geography."
The three other home-schoolers who entered the finals yesterdaywere Isaiah Hess, 14, from Colorado Springs; Calvin McCarter, 10, from Jenison, Mich.; and Erik Miller, 14, from Kent, Wash.
Parents prayed and crossed their fingers as their children walked to the microphone and whooped with joy at each right answer.
Tom Meyerson, a seventh-grader from the District's Blessed Sacrament School, said he has a "crazy fascination of places around the world."
He also had some tense moments yesterday. "It was tough when they showed me a picture of two ladies wearing blue paint and asked me to identify the country they are from," said Tom, 12.
That answer Ireland was the only one he didn't get in the preliminary rounds, but competition was so tough that he did not make it to the finals. Neither did local students Timothy Mackie, an eighth-grader from College Park, who is schooled by his parents, and Brian Cheng, a seventh-grader from Langston Hughes Middle School in Reston.
Three contestants, including Department of Defense student Ryan Felix, made perfect scores, getting all nine questions right. Ryan, 14, an eighth-grader at Naples American High School in Italy, answered every question without pause or hesitation, throwing up his hands in joy when he got the final answer right. He later said his travels through Europe had come in handy.
"I got several European-geography questions and that helped," said Ryan, whose father is in the Navy and has lived in Italy for 2 years.
"I am itching to come back and live in the United States," he said.
In 1999, David Beihl became the first student taught at home to win the geography bee. Yesterday, his sister, Debbie, a confident 12-year-old from Saluda, S.C., tried her luck, but without success. Home-schooler Mallika Thampy, 13, from St. Louis, whose brother, George, was the National Spelling Bee champion in 2000 and the geography bee's second-place finisher the same year, also did not make it to the finals.
"I am not disappointed," said her father, George Thampy. "This has been an opportunity for her to learn a lot and develop her skills."


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