In his mind’s eye, eighth-grader Nicholas Sarris instantly knew the winning answer in the state geography bee. It was on a map hanging on the wall in his Earth Science classroom at West Hollow Middle School in Melville.
The 14-year-old was in the final round of the New York State National Geographic Bee in Albany when the judges posed the question:
“Last November, endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh promoted full protection of a large marine area by swimming in the icy waters off the coast of Grytviken. Grytviken is a settlement on what island 450 miles to the northwest of the South Sandwich Islands?”
“South Georgia,” Nicholas answered. It was a question his sole remaining opponent had missed.
“In my Earth Science class, it has a map and it shows the tectonic plates and it shows the island right there — and I knew,” Nicholas recalled of that moment at the April 6 competition.
In three weeks, the student from the Half Hollow Hills district will face other state winners from across the country in the National Geographic Bee, scheduled May 20-24 in Washington. He is a first-time competitor, navigating online resources and written words to find a path to victory.
The annual competition, organized by the National Geographic Society, is designed to inspire and reward students’ curiosity about the world.
Students in grades four through eight from 10,000 schools across the United States will compete for a chance to win college scholarships and the title of National Geographic Bee Champion.
In the state competition at the New York State Museum in Albany, Nicholas — who is called “Nick” by family and friends — made his way through four rounds.
Initially, he and 100 others were in the competition. By the final round, he was up against nine students until the final questions for the championship, when he faced off against one other student from Long Island — Jonathan “Jules” Sanders, a sixth-grader from Great Neck North Middle School.
Jonathan, 12, plans to compete again, he said. This was his first time at the geographic bee.
“I studied a lot,” Jonathan said. “I watched the YouTube channel — ‘Geography Now.’ I think it is interesting, and I think it is all aspects of the Earth tied together and I am also interested in history.”
Nicholas is the first state champion from the Half Hollow Hills district, according to Christina Papachristou, the bee coordinator at West Hollow Middle School.
“This contest really helps spark student interest in the subject and increases public awareness about geography,” she said in a news release.
The national champion will receive a $50,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership to the National Geographic Society and a trip to the Galapagos Islands. The second- and third-place finishers will receive $25,000 and $10,000 college scholarships, respectively.
Nicholas is preparing now as best he can.
“I have been reading a lot of my books about geography and watching videos and focusing on places I don’t know as much,” he said. “You just have to study a broad range of subjects, just to be safe in case they ask about one out of nowhere.”