The audience erupted in laughter when they heard the first of three questions in the final round of Helena Middle School’s geography bee Friday morning:
“The town of Bozeman, known for its artists, ranchers and trout fishing, is located north of Yellowstone Park in what state?” asked Bonnie Bowler, the moderator of the event.
The two 13-year-old finalists, Seth Putnam and Max Morris, had no problem answering the question as an audience of about 25 students and parents cheered them on in the Helena Middle School Library.
The second question was a little tougher:
“Name the large chain of volcanic islands that stretches about 1,200 miles westward from the Alaska Peninsula,” Bowler said.
But again, the two contestants had no problem coming up with the correct answer — the Aleutian Islands.
Bowler’s final question was “The Yaghan were a nomadic tribe indigenous to Tierra del Fuego, an island group that is divided between Argentina and what other country?”
“The United Kingdom,” Putnam answered.
“Chile,” Morris said.
Morris had the correct answer with Chile, taking first place and ending a competition that ran from 8 to 11 a.m.
Putnam finished second and his younger brother, Carson Putnam, came in third.
In all, about 30 of the 700 students at Helena Middle School made it through classroom competitions to qualify for the geography bee.
Morris said he was “really nervous” going into the competition, but his experience in previous geography bees — he made it to the state geography bee in the fifth grade — and the coaching of social studies teacher Glen Wall helped him win the competition.
Morris and geography bee winners from schools across the state will take a written geography test — the 100 students with the best scores will move on to the state geography bee in Billings on April 5.
“Mr. Wall teaches us everything,” Morris said after the competition. “He’s like the best teacher I’ve ever had.”
“Yeah, he really helps you practice,” Putnam said. “He makes it super easy to memorize all the countries and capitals of the world.”
“We’re talking about you, Mr. Wall,” Morris said.
Wall laughed as he joined Morris and the two Putnam brothers in the middle of the library.
“Our school has been blessed with really good geography kids,” Wall said. “We’ve had two kids make it to the national geography bee over the last 10 years.”
Understanding world geography is key in understanding politics, news and global trends, Wall said.
The three finalists all agreed that studying geography has changed their perspective on the world.
“Yeah, I look at the news almost every day now,” the elder Putnam brother said.
“I’ve got like a visual map in my head, and I can know where everything is if somebody is talking about it,” Morris added.
“It’s a way to bring people together with your knowledge of cultures and things like that,” Wall said of studying geography. “It’s a critical component to making a peaceful world.”