ELINORE KOSAK of Brunswick, left, and Lisandro Berry- Gaviria of Bowdoinham both competed at the Maine State Geography Bee last month. Berry-Gaviria finished in fourth place.

ELINORE KOSAK of Brunswick, left, and Lisandro Berry- Gaviria of Bowdoinham both competed at the Maine State Geography Bee last month. Berry-Gaviria finished in fourth place.


For Elinore Kosak of Brunswick Junior High School, it was a question about the where one might find the black mamba snake (South Africa) that nearly kept her from advancing. For Lisandro Berry-Gaviria of Mt. Ararat Middle School, it was the city nearest Mt. Damavand (Tehran) that stumped him. At that moment, it looked as if the Maine State Geography Bee was over for them both.

Just minutes later, everything changed.

Once results were in from the other rooms where preliminaries were held, they were informed they had qualified for the tiebreaker round of the statewide National Geographic Geography Bee, which took place last month at the University of Maine at Farmington.

And for Berry-Gaviria, a 7th grader from Bowdoinham, it didn’t end there.

In the tiebreakers, it was a question about a city on a tributary of the Amazon River, just east of the Andes Mountains, that gave him his big break.

“I was kind of shocked that I’d gotten it right, because almost everyone else had guessed Brazil. I had guessed Peru, because I knew it was one of only three countries that have Amazon tributaries and yet are in the Andes.”

Berry-Gaviria and the one other student who had answered correctly, Isaac Bell of Chelsea, advanced to the finals. There, just ten students of the 100 initial fourth- to eighth-grade competitors, all school-level champions from around the state, faced off in a final competition.

Finalists were peppered with questions by the moderator: Questions about the world cultures, religions, languages, landmarks, water bodies, boundaries, landforms and more.

In the end, Berry-Gaviria was one of just five students remaining. Asked which south Asian nation harbors the last remaining populations of the endangered Asian lion, he and Quinn Straus of Damariscotta incorrectly answered Thailand. Having tied for fourth, the two walked off stage.

“I was happy that I’d made it that far,” said Berry- Gaviria. “I consider myself lucky to have made it to the finals when so many other competitors like Elinore were just as qualified to be a finalist as I was. The three who beat me certainly deserved to win and I want to congratulate all of them.”

When the dust cleared from the next flurry of questions, Matthew Chase, an eighth grader from Wells Junior High School, had won the Maine State Championship. Second place went to eighth grader Eric Youth of Portland, and third place to fifth grader Haden Buzzell of West Newfield.

As the state champion, Chase will represent Maine at the national competition of the Geo Bee, which will take place May 11-13 in Washington, D.C. The national Bee will be televised at 8 p.m. May 15, on the National Geographic Channel and NG Wild, and moderated by former CNN host Soledad O’Brien.

Chase also won a free plane ticket to Washington D.C., a complete set of digitized National Geographics, and admission to the University of Maine at Farmington.

Like Berry-Gaviria, Kosak was happy to be there and to have made a new friend from a rival school district. “I just consider myself fortunate to have made it so far,” she said. “I have been the school runner-up every year since fourth grade, so to win the bee this year in my last year of eligibility was fantastic. Making the run-off made my experience even better. Even though I didn’t make it to the finals, I was rooting for Lisandro in the finals all the way.”

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