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For 12-year-old geography whiz, persistence is key to victory

May 28, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Asia’s most densely populated country has about 3 million people in less than 250 square miles. Name this country.

Twelve-year-old Alex Kerchner of Washington state knew the answer and that made him the champion Wednesday at the National Geography Bee.

The correct answer _ Singapore _ gave Kerchner victory over 56 other finalists and more than 5 million students nationwide. He also won a $25,000 college scholarship and a lifetime subscription to National Geographic, the magazine that sponsored the contest.

It was the fourth time that Alex, a seventh-grader at Kamiakin Junior High School in Kirkland, Wash., had made the geography bee finals. He scored among the top 10 last year.

What gave him the winning edge?

``Persistence paid off,″ he said. ``You have to keep trying, looking at everything until you get it all together. You just have to keep trying until you make it. I did it for four years and I finally won.″

But it wasn’t exactly easy.

Alex hesitated, then asked for a repeat of one question. ``The term `eolian’ refers to physical features that have been shaped by which agent of erosion?″

He then provided the correct answer: ``Wind.″

``I always seem calm, but I really am nervous,″ he said. ``I didn’t give up.″

Education Secretary Richard Riley, who helped distribute the awards, said the geography competition, now in its ninth year, ``helps us raise national education standards.″

``Geography is one of the core subjects for us to consider,″ he said.

Placing second and taking home a $15,000 scholarship was Steve Sreckovic, 14, an eighth-grader at South Milwaukee Middle School in South Milwaukee, Wis.

His incorrect answer to the tie breaking-question concerning Asia’s smallest and most densely populated country was Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a British colony, not a country. It reverts to China this summer.

Sreckovic didn’t lose for lack of confidence.

Asked by host Alex Trebek _ he’s master of ceremonies and the asker of questions on television’s ``Jeopardy″ _ if he was weak in any area of geography, Steve replied: ``I don’t have any areas like that.″

Winner of third place and a $10,000 scholarship was Justin Mosel, 14, an eighth-grader at the Orchard Public School in Orchard, Neb.

Alex, the champ, said that while geography may not interest all of his peers, ``I study geography because I want to.″

He thanked his father for his support. ``He’s the one who asks the questions and helps me study.″

He was asked if he has any chinks in his competitive armor.

``My dad always says I don’t have enough confidence,″ he said.

``But I think I had confidence all the way through.″

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