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Michigan Boy Who Wants to be President Wins Geography Bee

May 31, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Eighth-grader Chris Galeczka has read and thought a lot about Afghanistan, the former Soviet Union, Bosnia and the world’s other hot spots.

On Wednesday, that knowledge helped the 13-year-old Michigan boy win the 1995 National Geography Bee. Someday, he hopes it helps him become president.

``It’s kind of nice,″ Chris said of his victory as he hoisted an oversized copy of the $25,000 college scholarship check he won. But like a true politician, he wouldn’t outline his strategy for winning the White House in the 21st century.

``My grandma told me not to be political,″ he said.

Chris, a pupil at Bemis Junior High School in the Detroit suburb of Sterling Heights, beat Aaron Wenzel, 14, an eighth-grader at Freeport Junior High School in Freeport, Ill., in the final round of the contest sponsored by the National Geographic Society and the Chrysler Corp.

Both boys were asked to write the answer to the question: ``Pashtu and Dari are the languages of which mountainous, landlocked country in central Asia?″

Chris answered Afghanistan. Aaron incorrectly guessed Bhutan.

Before that, both boys had outlasted eight other finalists during seven excruciating rounds dealing with rivers, land masses, crafts made by indigenous peoples and politics.

``Lots of the questions come from the magazine,″ Chris said. ``So if you read that, you know a lot of the stuff.″

Altogether, nearly six million students competed in this year’s bee, the National Geographic Society said.

Leo Cruz, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at North Arvada Middle School in Arvada, Colo., looked grim after guessing incorrectly that the ruins of the ancient city of Petra are in modern-day Israel rather than Jordan. But later, he was philosophical about being the first of 10 finalists eliminated.

``It’s not that scary,″ Leo said. ``It’s more intense than the state contest, but not that bad.″

The geographic society began the annual contest seven years ago after studies indicated many American students knew little about the world.

According to new, voluntary national standards that the society helped develop, fourth-graders should be able to locate the seven continents and four oceans on a world map and point to several countries in South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. Eighth-graders should be able to describe the location and some physical and human characteristics of places frequently mentioned in the news.

The 10 finalists all share a fascination with faraway places, but they prepared for the contest in different ways.

Runner-up Aaron, who received a $15,000 scholarship, played with a computer atlas and read ``some current events kinds of things.″ Usually he sticks to social studies, his favorite, and science fiction. He’d like to be an archaeologist studying native American cultures in South America.

Chris, who likes to boat, snowmobile, watch TV and play with his computer, reads newspapers and magazines intently. Foreign policy issues are his favorites, and he’s thought deeply about some problems President Clinton faces.

Asked by game show host Alex Trebek what he thought the United States should do about Bosnia, Chris answered: ``I’d say we should work with other countries.″

He’s not sure he would make U.S. ground troops available to help United Nations peace keepers reposition as Clinton has decided to do, the boy said later. ``It’s a very complex problem,″ he said.

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