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Washington Boy, 14, Wins Geographic Bee

May 21, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The competition went to a second tiebreaker before James Williams, a 14-year-old from Vancouver, Wash., claimed victory Wednesday in the 15th annual National Geographic Bee.

``I wasn’t expecting this at all, it’s really exciting,″ the soft-spoken James, oldest of six children, said after besting 55 finalists in two days of competition.

The deciding question: ``Goa, a state in southwestern India, was a possession of which country until 1961?″

Portugal was James’ correct answer, netting a $25,000 college scholarship, a lifetime subscription to National Geographic magazine and a week at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Adventure Camp.

Dallas Simons, a 13-year-old student at Martin Luther King Magnet School in Nashville, Tenn., placed second and collected a $15,000 college scholarship. Taking third, and a $10,000 scholarship, was Sean Rao, 14, a student at St. Gabriel School in Hubertus, Wis.

It was the second straight year a home-schooler has won the bee.

Ann Williams, the winner’s mother, said she and husband Craig had decided on home schooling before they had any children.

``We wanted to make learning a lifestyle rather than something you have to do,″ she said. It allows the children to concentrate on areas they enjoy and the family isn’t tied to a school schedule, she added.

James credited that flexibility with allowing him to spend time on geography, but that isn’t his only interest. The family came to the nation’s capital from Ohio, where he participated in a science olympiad, and later this year he will compete as a member of the Washington-Oregon Science Bowl team.

Runner-up Dallas Simons is a computer buff, swims on a year-round swim team, enjoys basketball and says he’d like to be a National Geographic photographer so he can travel around the world.

Third-place finisher Sean Rao _ who also represented his state in the national competition in 2001 _ plays the flute, enjoys hiking and biking and told host Alex Trebek he’d like to be ambassador to the United Kingdom someday.

The 55 state competitors _ the best of more than 5 million participants who entered local contests _ were narrowed to 10 finalists who faced off Wednesday.

Other finalists were Jacob Felts, 14, Hardy, Ark.; Kathryn Prose, 13, Denver; Thomas Meyerson, 13, Washington; David Goldman, 14, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Christopher Butler, 13, Shaker Heights, Ohio; Samuel Brandt, 11, Eugene, Ore.; and Karan Takhar, 12, East Providence, R.I.

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On the Net:

National Geographic Society: http://nationalgeographic.com

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