Fifth grader from Austin wins state Geographic Bee

Posted Friday, Apr. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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BEDFORD -- Fortunately, Chinmay Murthy knew all about Walvis Bay, a major port in Namibia, South Africa, when it counted, and that piece of information is sending him on a journey of his own to Washington D.C.

The fifth grader from Austin outlasted 99 other students from fourth through eighth grades to become the Texas state champion in the National Geographic Bee held Friday in Bedford.

He will compete against winners from other states in the 25th annual National Geographic Bee in Washington, D.C. in May. Four of the past five national winners have come from Texas.

"This is actually my first year of competition," said a beaming Murthy, 11, as he held up a trophy about half his height when the contest ended just before 2 p.m. at the Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district's Pat May Center.

"I enjoyed answering the questions, and it's an opportunity because you learn as well as compete," he said. "It's been looking at atlases that has helped me in geography, and sometimes even talking to other people."

Poornima Murthy, Chinmay's mother, said his early Montessori schooling probably helped in the contest.

"They play a lot with maps, and all his teachers have been really helpful," she said.

He attends Paragon Preparatory Academy in central Austin.

Ben Benjadol of Euless' Wilshire Elementary School, took home the third-place trophy as the highest-ranking Tarrant County finisher.

It was the third year that Benjadol, 12, has competed in the Grography Bee at the state level. He finished second in the Spelling Bee for the second year in a row recently.

"I guess you could call it cramming," he said about the preparation required for two major competitions at almost the same time. "I like both spelling and geography, because really it's the spirit of competition."

Palap Benjadol, Ben's mother, said she helps out a little bit, "but mostly he did it for himself," she said. "Mostly he enjoys playing geographic games."

Second-place winner was Pranay Varada of Carrollton. Naveed Chowdhry of Hurst Junior High School came in fourth place.

It was a historically tight competition for the Texas bee, requiring several rounds of tie-breaker questions to end up with the final 10 finalists.

A record number of 27 perfect-scoring competitors came out of the preliminary rounds, which usually yield between 10 and 15 prospective finalists.

"It's huge," said contest organizer Judy Brodigan. "It's way more than I ever remember, and I've been doing this for 15 years."

"I'm very impressed," said Kaisheng Song of Frisco, whose son Victor was competing in the bee for the first time. "The children here are all wonderful because they're actually interested in geography. You have to last a couple of hours here in just the preliminary competition."

Victor didn't advance to the finals, but he and his dad sat through the full competition.

The questions are pretty monumental themselves:

"In which European country can you hear groups of people speaking the regional languages of Basque, Breton and Flemish?"

It's France, of course.

Or, "A portion of southwest French Guiana that is part of the Tumucumaque Mountains is claimed by which neighboring country?"

Suriname, natch.

If Chinmay wins in Washington, he will collect a $25,000 college scholarship and yet another adventure: an ocean voyage to the Galapagos Islands.

Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657

Twitter: @startelegram

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