Juneau geography whiz wins 3rd place at state

Posted: Friday, April 13, 2001

Sixth-grader Ben Grammel of Juneau placed third in the Alaska Geographic Bee.

He can't remember the question that finally stumped him, but he recalls drawing upon his sense of language to figure out what country the Toledo famous for weaponry is in.

"All I could think of was Toledo, Ohio, but I figured Toledo was a Spanish name and I was right," Grammel said.

The Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School student was one of four local youths who won their school geography bees and placed among the top 100 fourth- through eighth-graders statewide in a written test, earning them a place at the state bee.

Also competing last week in Anchorage were Sam Messerschmidt, a fifth-grader at Auke Bay Elementary; Kirsten Jorgensen, a fifth-grader at Harborview Elementary; and Ted Miller, a seventh-grader at Thunder Mountain Academy.

It was Grammel's second year at the state competition. Last year he placed 11th.

"I wasn't as nervous as last year because I've been there before. My goal was to do better than last year, and I definitely accomplished that," he said.

Miller, who also competed in the state bee last year, said he prepared by looking up facts on the Internet and reviewing questions from past bees. Students have to know economics, current events and history, not just the location of places, he said.

"You got to know what crops are in each country. You got to know exports and imports. It's a lot to study," Miller said.

Messerschmidt prepared by studying maps, looking at newspaper articles, and playing a National Geographic card game.

Some of the questions at the state bee "were real stumpers. Some just popped into your head easy," he said. "I enjoy (geography) because I find it fun. When there's an earthquake in a foreign country, I know where it is."

Jorgensen agreed there were some hard questions, such as what East African country has eel grass beds that are home to sea cows. Or which country has produced the most nuclear power in the past decade. She guessed Russia, but the answer was the United States.

Jorgensen will attend Dzantik'i Heeni next year - Grammel's school.

"If I want to win it next year I have to study a little bit harder because he knows his stuff," she said.

The National Geographic Society sponsors the bee. Nearly 5 million students nationally participate in the bees, the society estimates.

Rachel Schuerger of Ketchikan won the Alaska bee and will represent the state at the national contest May 22-23 in Washington, D.C. Second place went to William Kornmuller of Big Lake.

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.

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