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National Geographic Bee won by 14-year-old

Thursday, May 27, 2004

WASHINGTON -- Fourteen-year-old Andrew Wojtanik had a thick study guide his competitors didn't have as he prepared for the 16th annual National Geographic Bee: a 432-page world almanac that he made himself.

"It's got everything you need to know about all the countries -- its currency, its ethnic groups, its mountains, rivers, all that stuff," said Andrew, an eighth-grader from Lakewood Middle School in Overland Park, Kan. He beat 54 other semifinalists, ages 10 to 15, in two days of competition that wound up Wednesday.

The final question: Peshawar, in Pakistan, has had strategic importance for centuries because of its location near what historic pass?

Khyber Pass?Andrew's correct answer: the Khyber Pass.

His almanac is already in its second edition. The first one helped him advance to the semifinal round last year.

This year he altered his guide only slightly to claim first place: "It was written last year. This year I typed it."

He takes home a $25,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership to the National Geographic Society and a weeklong trip to a SeaWorld/Busch Gardens Adventure Camp.

Andrew swept the final round Wednesday, beating out second-place winner Matthew Wells, 13, an eighth-grader at Headwaters Academy in Bozeman, Mont., who won a $15,000 scholarship.

In third place was Eric Liaw, 12, a sixth-grader at Punahou Junior High School in Honolulu. He won a $10,000 scholarship.

The 55 semifinalists were all winners of their state geography bees. They led a field of nearly 5 million students from the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Pacific Territories and Department of Defense Schools.

Alex Trebek of "Jeopardy!" hosted Wednesday's final round. Unusually, this year's top ten finalists were all boys.

"It doesn't surprise me but I don't think it should necessarily be that way," said Matthew, the second-place winner, who read National Geographic magazines and guidebooks to prepare. "I just don't think girls are quite as interested in it."

Andrew, who also enjoys track, baseball and golf, said he spent about eight hours every weekend and three hours on weekdays working on his almanac over the last month.

"I wasn't that nervous, which is probably part of the key," he casually told reporters.

His mother, Dianna Wojtanik, said she noticed her son's aptitude for geography around age 3, when he started poring over maps. But she said she and her husband, Daniel, a market research manager, didn't give him any special coaching.

"At this level you can't -- it's him," she said. "He's very self-determined and dedicated. He's just an amazing kid."

Andrew already has his sights set on another goal: visiting every U.S. national park.

The seven other top finalists were Yangbo Du, 14, of Dunlap, Ill.; Mattias Gassman, 14, of Ames, Iowa; Thimal de Alwis, 13, of Hammond, La.; Gautham Senthilkumar, 13, of Bowling Green, Ohio; Christopher Chesny, 14, of Claremore, Okla.; Cory Sweers, 13, of Auburn, Wash.; and Bo Sun, 14, of Ladysmith, Wis.

----On the Net:

National Geographic Society: http://nationalgeographic.com


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