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Geography whiz knows his way aroundOdyssey student John Leatherman prevailed in the local bee.

"The National Geographic Bee was approaching the climactic moment. Fifty pairs of eyes were riveted on contestants Corbin Lester and John Leatherman.In August, 2000, teams from Russia, Norway and Great Britain attempted in vain to rescue a crew of a Russian submarine which sank to the floor of which sea? Odyssey Multi-Age Program teacher Barry Hoonan read the question, next-to-last in a series that had eliminated all but two of the 10 finalists. The number of fourth through sixth graders had already been winnowed from 40 by questions the day before. Danged if I know, whispered one parent volunteer to another, as the audience's barely suppressed tension nearly levitated the entire classroom.When the final answers were given, John Leatherman was the last contestant standing. I've always studied geography with my dad, Leatherman said. And I like history, too.The geography bee competition was held in schools nationwide Wednesday, and Leatherman's prize is a 45-minute geography test. If he scores in the top 5 percent, Leatherman will fly to Washington, D.C. for the national championship. Some might consider an exam a dubious door prize, but Leatherman loves geography. The other nine finalists were Corbin Lester, Spencer Hepp, Jamie Maurer, Delsa Toglia, Zean Hemmen, Colin Gremse, Theresa Gildner, Trillium Swanson and Sean Kydd.Kydd was the only fourth-grader to have made it to the school finals. His teacher is Barb Ellis.The geography bee has been a useful teaching tool in a variety of ways, according to Hoonan.What the geography bee does, besides give us a way of talking about geography in an engaging game-like atmosphere, Hoonan said, is give us a platform for talking about and enjoying geography, generally.The geography bee doesn't stand by itself. It opens the avenue of seeing what the nation and the world offers those of us living and learning on Bainbridge Island. Hoonan cites a book his students have been reading - Out of the Dust, Newberry medal-winning fiction by Karen Hess about the dust bowl years in Oklahoma - as an extension of the bee. Hoonan himself claims to have been caught off guard by geography bee questions that focussed on weather patterns. Students, similarly surprised, did remarkably well deciphering the unfamiliar maps denoting high and low pressure systems as well as cold and stationary fronts. Difficult questions occasionally elicited the response I don't know, printed in big block letters and displayed by several contestants. Contestants showed good humor and sportsmanship as they were eliminated one by one. The national finals in Washington, D.C. will be moderated by Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek. The program will air on the new National Geographic Channel, and afterward on PBS stations, produced by Maryland Public Television.Islanders who didn't know that the Russian sub is sitting at the bottom of the Barents Sea can hone their geography skills online, at nationalgeographic.com/geobee. "

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