Yokosuka student prepares for geography bee
Stars and Stripes May 4, 2004
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — While many kids his age spend their time searching for the cheat codes and secrets to the latest computer games, Matthew Duncan, 13, is hitting the books, globes, atlases and maps — getting himself ready for the National Geographic Geography Bee, set to take place May 26 in Washington, D.C.
The Yokosuka Middle School eighth- grader is the Department of Defense Dependents Schools representative in this year’s contest, where more than 50 students in grades 4-8 from the United States and its territories will take their shot at a $25,000 scholarship. The second- and third-place finishers win $15,000 and $10,000 scholarships, respectively. Matthew, who owns more than 100 maps and atlases, says that geography has always been a favorite subject because it’s always in flux.
“I like political geography, how countries influence each other and deal with each other,” he said, adding that he enjoys how political and cultural environments are always changing and developing over time.
But Matthew says the chance to represent DODDS in the bee is more than simply knowing places on a map or globe.
“In order to compete in the geography bee, you can’t just [know] that the capital of Iceland is Reykjavik,” he said. “You have to know specific things about the culture, demography and physical characteristics. It’s just a huge wide realm of knowledge that you have to know.”
Matthew first got interested in the competition about five years ago when he saw it on television. He thought it was “cool” and told his father, Dale, he wanted to compete.
His father encouraged him, but it was his sister, Elizabeth, who really provided a boost.
“She’s put in a lot of time and effort to help me,” Matthew said. “She used to compete herself, and she’s really helped me a lot.”
Elizabeth, 14, a Kinnick High School freshman, said her brother worked hard to qualify and she’ll be proud of him regardless of the outcome.
“I hope he does well,” she said. “It’s kind of been a family dream of ours to go to nationals. My brother and I have really been into [qualifying for nationals]. It’s been really important for us.”
Dale Duncan, a seventh-grade teacher at YMS, also praised his son’s accomplishments, adding that Matthew also runs cross country and track.
“In the same way he tries really hard in those events, he tries really hard in geography,” said Dale Duncan. “He is just driven, I mean. He is more driven than I am.
“He’s going to have a lot of stiff competition when he gets [to Washington]. As long as he keeps his confidence up, I think he will do really well. Just getting there is a pretty big feat. I just hope he has fun with it.”
Dale Duncan was very impressed with the cooperation between Matthew and his sister.
“That’s the one thing I am most proud of,” he said, “the way they’ve worked together.”
Elizabeth began competing as a sixth-grader with Matthew’s help, Dale Duncan added.
“She competed three years in a row at the state level in Idaho. She’s turned around now and is helping him. This is his opportunity to do well,” he said.
“Brothers and sisters don’t always get along so well, but they did a good job of helping each other.”
The National Geographic Geography Bee will be aired live on the National Geographic Channel.