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  • Randall Benton /

    Thomas Gabrielson of Sunnyvale, center, learns his answer was correct Friday during the annual California Geographic Bee in Sacramento.

  • Randall Benton /

    Archana Kannan of San Jose, center, with son Sidharth Kannan, 9, right, photographs the stage Friday during the state Geographic Bee at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento.

  • Randall Benton /

    Tuvya Bergson-Michelson, 12, of San Carlos, right, gets a hug from his 8-year-old brother, Ezra, after winning the state Geographic Bee at Cosumnes River College, qualifying Tuvya to represent California at the national bee on May 22 in Washington, D.C.

  • Randall Benton /

    Samuel Joffe reacts to questions during the California Geographic Bee, in which more than 100 students competed for five hours.

Bay Area youth wins California Geographic Bee in Sacramento

Published: Saturday, Apr. 6, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Saturday, Apr. 6, 2013 - 3:36 pm

Editor's note: A previous version of this story included misspelling of the last name of state Geography Bee coordinator Stephen Cunha.

Tuvya Bergson-Michelson won the 2013 California Geographic Bee on Friday after a grueling five-hour contest that included more than 100 students from across the state.

The 12-year-old from San Carlos will represent California at the national bee on May 22 in Washington, D.C. This will be his second time competing for the Golden State, and Friday's event was his third time in the state championship, held annually for 25 years at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento.

"I do this for fun because I'm intrigued by politics and international relations," the sixth-grader said shyly after the competition, stunned that he had won again.

One of Sacramento's own made it to the final round of 10 contestants.

Eric McKinley, 14, who attends St. Michael's Academy in Carmichael but lives in Sacramento, placed fourth overall.

"I'm feeling pretty good," he said after walking offstage.

The eighth-grader said he hopes one day to put his geography skills to use working for the U.S. State Department.

Ranging from fourth through eighth grades, the 105 students at Friday's bee had to beat their classmates and pass a written test to qualify for the Sacramento competition.

About 20 percent of the questions focused on the United States, while the other 80 percent dealt with the world.

"This is not just about pretty maps," said state bee coordinator Stephen Cunha, a professor who chairs the geography department at Humboldt State University. "Not only do they have to know where Brazil is, they also need to know what products it exports. It's the why behind the where."

Competition was largely dominated by students from the Bay Area, who accounted for eight of the 10 finalists. Cunha attributed this to the region's rising population of Asian immigrants who, he said, put a strong emphasis on educating their children.

"Their parents are well-educated," Cunha said, referring to the influx of high-tech workers from China and India that the Bay Area has seen in recent decades.

The state is home to 5.6 million Asians, about one-third of the country's 17.3 million Asians, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data.

Asians constitute 14.9 percent of California's population, an increase from 12.3 percent in 2000.

Coming to Sacramento has become something of an annual ritual for Sheldon Wong, 12, of Los Altos, who has competed at the state level for three years and placed second in the contest Friday.

But getting here isn't always easy.

"Competition is tough in the Bay Area," the seventh-grader said. "Parents push the children."

Wong, whose parents work in the high-tech and medical fields, said he wants to be a scientist and would "come back next year."

The first-, second- and third-place winners at the state bee received checks for $100, $75 and $50, respectively. But the real jackpot comes at the national competition, with the grand prize being a $25,000 scholarship.

"It pays to be smart and know your geography," Cunha said.

Call The Bee's Richard Chang, (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.

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