WASHINGTON -- Tiné Valencic, a seventh-grader at Colleyville Middle School, won the 2011 National Geographic Bee on Wednesday.
The 13-year-old beat 53 other contestants -- representing each state, plus the District of Columbia, Defense Department schools and U.S. territories -- to win the grand prize: a $25,000 scholarship, lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society and a trip to the Galapagos Islands.
"It's great," said the soft-spoken champ after being declared the winner by moderator Alex Trebek, the Jeopardy host. "I don't know how to describe it."
The winning question was about Mount Everest: "Thousands of mountain climbers and trekkers rely on Sherpas to aid their ascent of Mount Everest. The southern part of Mount Everest is located in which Nepalese national park?"
The answer: Sagarmatha National Park.
Valencic, whose parents immigrated from Slovenia, knew what to do first after he won -- he called his father in Texas.
"He was excited," the youngster said.
At Colleyville Middle School, the victory was announced over the public address system. Valencic's social studies teacher and the school principal attended the competition at National Geographic headquarters and alerted the school.
On Wednesday night, the geography whiz, accompanied by his mother, Jana, made a brief appearance at a banquet for participants before hopping on a train to New York City, where the festivities continue.
This morning, Valencic is to appear on Live with Regis and Kelly where he will compete with Regis Philbin on geography questions. He also has a CNN interview scheduled.
Valencic was last year's Texas champion but didn't make the national finals. This time, he answered nine questions correctly but missed one on the first day. Under National Geographic rules, contestants can miss one question and still advance. He answered 25 questions correctly Wednesday.
Nilai Sarda, 11, of Atlanta came in second; Stefan Petrovic, 13, of Lawrence, Kan., was third. They'll receive $15,000 and $10,000 college scholarships, respectively.
Valencic was born in Detroit and has lived in Texas for seven years. He said he became interested in geography when he was in kindergarten and was given an atlas.
"I was intrigued by it," he said.
Maria Recio is the Star-Telegram's Washington bureau chief. 202-383-6103