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BOWLING GREEN - Ask Gautham Senthilkumar a question, any question about world geography. Odds are, he'll know the answer.
The 13-year-old Bowling Green Junior High School student took first place at the Ohio Geography Bee April 2 and hopes to do the same when he competes with students from across the country next month at the National Geography Bee in Washington.
"I think it's exciting. It's interesting," the eighth grader said of the competitions.
Does he get nervous?
"Only during the final rounds, but not so much," he said.
"We are the ones who are nervous," his mother, Ramadevi Kannan, quickly added.
To win the state championship, Gautham correctly answered three questions, identifying the Canadian province situated next to a fishing bay and Cape Gaspe (New Brunswick), the country whose president was forced to resign when rebels gained control of the capital Monrovia (Liberia), and the British-owned island in the Caribbean Sea where there was a volca-
nic eruption and whose capital is Plymouth (Montserrat).
"It was tough," his mother said. Though she didn't know all the answers at the state bee, she was confident her son would, especially when the final question involved volcanoes, she said.
"He knows a lot about volcanoes. He reads a lot about volcanoes," she said.
Gautham's success in geography is an obvious byproduct of his parents' encouragement and his interest in reading, which began in earnest at age 8 when he began consuming books about dinosaurs, then U.S. presidents, then the Civil War, the world wars, and the Middle Ages.
Right now, he said he's been reading all he can about Japan and the history of the Roman Empire.
The geography bee, sponsored by the National Geographic Society, quizzes fourth through eighth graders on questions that involve a number of topics including current events, travel, culture, and plants and animals.
Bob Rex, a Bowling Green Junior High teacher who plans to accompany Gautham to the national bee, said the two geography buffs often quiz each other at school. He had Gautham in a geography skills class and now has him in earth science.
"He knows his stuff," Mr. Rex said. "He got a standing ovation in my class when they announced that he won."
Gautham has competed in the state competition every year since he was eligible - in Rhode Island in fourth and fifth grade and in Ohio in sixth, seventh, and eighth. This will be his first trip to the national bee.
Gautham's father, Senthil Muthusamy, an assistant professor of management at Bowling Green State University, said he has encouraged his son to watch international news programs and has discussed world history and politics with him since he was young. The family moved to the United States from India when Gautham was 4 and has done quite a bit of traveling as well.
The Bowling Green Board of Education plans to recognize Gautham's achievement when it meets Tuesday. Until the national bee May 25 and 26, he is studying at least an hour a day using a geography CD-ROM and materials supplied by the National Geographic Society.
Gautham plans to attend St. John's Jesuit High School in Toledo in the fall and would like to get involved with its quiz bowl team. After high school, he's thinking of becoming a biologist and would like to study geology as well.
"At school, I enjoy history the most and science. Those are my two favorites," he said.
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