- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Ten boys won the preliminary round of the 16th annual National Geographic Bee yesterday and the opportunity to compete against each other today for the top prize, a $25,000 college scholarship.

They bested 45 other students from around the United States by answering questions such as:

• Which Central American country borders Mexico and Guatemala? (Answer: Belize)

• Which African country south of Angola first announced in February that it would begin taking land from white farmers to give to blacks? (Answer: Namibia)

• Which country is home to the Baikalsky Nature Reserve, the refuge of a large bird called the great bustard? (Answer: Russia)

“I had some difficulty with pronunciation,” said Mattias Gassman, 14, one of today’s finalists.

Mattias, a home-schooled eighth-grader from Ames, Iowa, said the easiest part of the contest was identifying countries by their silhouette maps.

Yesterday’s preliminary rounds were held at the Wyndham City Center hotel in Northwest. The participants included 50 boys and five girls from all 50 states, the District, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the U.S. Pacific territories and Department of Defense Dependents Schools, which first began participating in the geography contest in November.

Today, Alex Trebek — host of the TV game show “Jeopardy!” — will proctor the contest’s final round at the National Geographic Society’s Grosvenor Auditorium.

This marks the second final for four boys who competed in last year’s contest: Eric Liaw, 12, a sixth-grader from Honolulu; Andrew Wojtanik, 14, an eighth-grader who lives near Kansas City, Mo.; Christopher Chesny, 14, an eighth-grader from Claremore, Okla.; and Bo Sun, 14, an eighth-grader from Ladysmith, Wis.

Other finalists are Yangbo Du, 14, an eighth-grader from Dunlap, Ill.; Thimal de Alwis, 13, an eighth-grader from Hammond, La.; Matthew Wells, 13, an eighth-grader from Bozeman, Mont.; Gautham Senthilkumar, 13, an eighth-grader from Bowling Green, Ohio; and Cory Sweers, 13, a home-schooled eighth-grader from Auburn, Wash.

Today’s winner also will receive a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society and a week’s trip to one of SeaWorld/Busch Gardens’ Adventure Camps.

Second- and third-place winners will receive a $15,000 and $10,000 college scholarship, respectively.

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