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Do you know the answer to this question: “What canal cuts across an isthmus between the city of Colon and the city of Balboa?”
If you do, you might have given Stephen Williams a run for his money last week.
Williams, a student at Dodd Middle School, correctly identified that the Panama Canal cut between Colon and Balboa to win this year's Dodd Middle School Geography Bee.
The answer came after numerous rounds of complex geography questions, designed to whittle a field of 24 participants down to only two finalists.
When the last answer had been given, and the final score tallied, Williams had come out the victor.
“I thought it was possible that I would win, but I didn't expect it,” a jubilant Williams said, a few hours after his win. “I was really surprised. It was great.”
The Geography Bee is a yearly event that pits Dodd students against one another to see who knows the most about the world around them. Dodd team competitions were held earlier in the year, the winners of which have the chance to battle in the school event.
Dodd Principal Jeff Solan and social studies division leader Patricia DiGiacomo moderated the Bee, challenging students with round after round of difficult questions until six remained. From that six, two made it to the final round — Williams and Manush Shah. The two tied on the first three questions posed until, finally, Williams won it with his Panama Canal answer.
“I knew the Panama Canal is one of the most famous in the world,” said Williams. “I thought it might be the answer.”
Taking part in the Bee was never really in doubt for Williams. The interest in geography began as a small child, when his father would pepper him with questions about the world and its configuration.
“I have been interested ever since I was five or six,” admitted Williams. “I always thought of it as explaining the world.”
Despite his knowledge when it comes to geography, however, the Bee presented a completely different challenge.
“A lot of the questions, I really had no clue,” he admitted. “Thank goodness they weren't the ones I got asked.”
The pronunciation of certain countries presented problems, he acknowledged, and forced him to take an educated guess on some.
“I was nervous, I really was. It was nerve-wracking,” he said.
The questions start at beginner level and then increase in difficulty as time goes on. All are taken from resources available through the National Geographic Society. Some examples of the types of questions asked to students, offered on the Society's Web site, are: “One of the Prairie Provinces produces more oil and natural gas than all of the other Canadian provinces combined. Name this province,” and “Pretoria is the administrative capital of a country in Africa. Name the country's legislative capital.”
Most of the questions were then followed by multiple choice options, which gave students the opportunity to logically decide on which answer was most likely, even when they didn't know it outright, Williams said.
After Williams won, he was presented with a small medal, which he wore around his neck for the rest of his day at school, and proudly showed off to anyone interested. But, his victory in the competition was only part of his day filled with geography. After all the congratulations had been bestowed, Williams sat down and completed a 70-question state geography bee questionnaire, which was then transmitted to the state. “Those were really tough. Some of them didn't even seem to have anything to do with geography. There was a lot of science in those questions,” Williams explained.
If Williams answered a high enough percentage of the questions correctly, he will have the opportunity to compete at the state level. If he were to come out of that victorious, he would then move on to the national Geography Bee held in Washington, D.C., where $25,000 would be at stake.
That is a long way off at this point, though, which Williams admits. He is just happy to have bested his fellow classmates and won at Dodd.
“It was great. There were a lot of tough questions, so I am glad that I was able to win,” he said.