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Geography of the Winner's Circle

Woodlawn student takes top honors in state Geographic Bee, qualifies for nationals.

Joey Huennekens proves reading the newspaper pays off. In the final round of the state Geographic Bee on Friday, April 4, Huennekens needed to identify the South American country that recently switched its currency from the sucre to the U.S. dollar. He took a deep breath and answered correctly: Ecuador.

?Well, it was in the newspaper. I read the newspaper,? said Huennekens this week. The simplest study strategy worked best, he said ? staying on top of current events by reading the newspaper every day, and taking an interest in travel and other countries.

Huennekens was one of three local seventh graders, including Sam Strongin of Williamsburg and Bobby Crosby of Swanson, to compete in a field of 100 students in the state championship this year. Each student first won his school?s geography bee and then scored high enough on a written exam to qualify for the competition held in Norfolk at Old Dominion University.

In the first round, students split into groups of 20 and were given eight questions testing a variety of knowledge. At the state Geographic Bee, questions are a more difficult than simply naming a capital city. Some of Huennekens? questions presented a set of statistics, then asked which country those numbers referred to.

Strongin said most of his first round questions fell into the categories of cultural and economic geography. ?I was nervous,? he said. ?It was tough.?

HUENNEKENS MISSED just one question in the first round, which vaulted him into the finals against nine other competitors. Missed questions eliminated competitor after competitor until that field of 10 became a showdown between two finalists. It came down to the last question.

The final round took place before a live audience, which heightened the pressure, Huennekens said. ?I was nervous in the finals, because it was in front of people,? he said.

Strongin stayed to watch the finals. ?It was very interesting, very suspenseful,? he said.

Laura Huennekens, Joey?s mother, said she was on the edge of her seat, not out of nervousness for her son, but because it was amazing to see what all 10 finalists knew. ?It was very exciting,? she said. ?All the kids were very impressive.?

Questions in the final round often required students to interpret visuals and identify their geographic context or relevance, Joey Huennekens said.

When the competition ended, he wasn?t even sure he had won. ?I was just happy getting second place,? he said.

But securing first place means Joey Huennekens earned a spot in the national competition, held in the District on May 20-21. Alex Trebek, host of the television show ?Jeopardy,? will guest host the competition. First prize is a $25,000 scholarship.

Laura Huennekens, who works for Arlington Public Schools as a social worker, said there?s no need to focus on the prize. ?I just want him to do his best and enjoy it,? she said.

Joey Huennekens says his favorite subjects are English and Social Studies. He hasn?t taken geography yet - Arlington students don?t take the course until eighth grade.