Thirteen-year-old Ian Garnto seemed to be a little anxious in front of the crowd in the McKnight Auditorium on the UNC Charlotte campus.
As he and the other nine finalists of the National Geographic Bee sat nearly motionless on stage, he was resting his forehead against his raised hand between the questions in the final rounds. The eighth-grader from Taylorsville seemed to be deep in thought or just extremely tired.
The group had been answering questions about geography for more than three hours, and the stress was getting to him. Starting with more than 100 students, ages 10-14, the March 27 competition had been fierce.
At the end of the preliminary rounds, they had to hold a tiebreaker to determine the 10 finalists because there had been 13 perfect scores, making the process of elimination take even longer.
As others in the final rounds were eliminated, leading to the championship match, Ian covered his face as if he was trying to escape the pressure.
But each time it came for him to answer, he faced the crowd and answered clearly, leaving no doubt. Ian was eliminated in the preliminary rounds of the state finals last year and had studied hard to make it to the finals this time.
When the round was stopped because the top three had been established, Ian laid his head on his crossed arms on the table in front of him.
Connor Hovendon, 13, from Asheville, advanced to the championship round to compete one-on-one against Ian. In the championship round the question is read and each contestant writes their answer on a notepad. The round is best two out of three.
Both answered correctly on the first question but the second question tripped up Connor, who gave an incorrect answer. Connor grimaced as the correct answer was read, knowing his only hope would be for Ian to miss the next question while he answered correctly.
When they both answered the last question correctly Ian wasn’t sure if he had won. He sat with his hand clamped around his mouth as he waited for the announcement. Standing up to shake Connor’s hand, he looked exhausted and relieved after he was announced as the winner.
Moderator Jamie Strickland, state coordinator for the National Geographic Bee, asked for Ian’s father to place the winning medal around Ian’s neck. As his father, Gabe Garnto, gave him a hug, Ian seemed a little overwhelmed by it all.
Ian won $100, a new atlas and an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C., where he will represent North Carolina May 11-13 at the 27th annual National Geographic Bee at the National Geographic Society headquarters.
On the key to winning the bee, Ian said, was “not being nervous and studying the atlas more. I wore out my old atlases, so I’m really glad I won a new one.”
Connor seemed pretty happy as well. “I still got $75 and second place. I never expected to do that well,” he said.
Caroline Jin, 14, from Raleigh, placed third and won $50 that she said will go toward her college fund.
Marty Price is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information about the National Geographic Bee, go to www.nationalgeographic.com/geobee