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Homeschooled Boy Wins Spelling Bee

May 26, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ David Beihl became the first homeschooled student to win the National Geography Bee, attributing his success Wednesday to ``study and prayer″ _ and perhaps a little knowledge of the weather.

Beihl, 13, of Saluda, S.C., correctly answered that ``La Nina″ is the Spanish name for the weather condition characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the equatorial region of the eastern Pacific Ocean.

``I’ve had lots of time to study. My schedule is more flexible than some other schools,″ said Beihl, taught at home since kindergarten. He outlasted Jason Borschow, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Saint John’s School in Condado, just outside San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Borschow answered ``El Nino,″ to the weather question in the championship round of the society’s nationwide geography competition. However the language’s male gender characterizes warm weather conditions, said moderator Alex Trebek, who usually serves as host of the television game show ``Jeopardy.″

``You have to be calm and not blurt the answer out. You have to take your time and consider all the possibilities,″ said Borschow, a third-time finalist who admits that in the end he did not follow his own advice.

Both Borschow and Beihl were returning participants to the annual competition. Borschow represented Puerto Rico last year and in 1997. Beihl represented South Carolina last year.

They were among the 10 to make Wednesday’s finals in the 11th annual competition. The field was narrowed from 55 on Tuesday at the society’s Washington headquarters. Each contestant represented fourth- to eighth-graders from each state, the District of Columbia, Department of Defense Schools and each of the five U.S. territories. More than 5 million students ages 10 to 15 competed in their schools and states earlier this year.

Beihl received a $25,000 scholarship from the society and a seven-day trip to Sydney, Australia from this year’s corporate sponsor, Bank One.

Borschow got a $15,000 scholarship for second place. Tanveer Ali, 13, an eighth-grader from Flint, Mich., won $10,000 for his third place finish. He attends Carman-Ainsworth Junior High School in Flint.

Beihl correctly answered all three championship round questions, while his opponent answered just two. Besides the La Nina question, Beihl also correctly named ``Dhaka″ as the capital city 65 miles northwest of the Jamuna River and ``Honduras″ as the only Central American country with direct access to the Pacific Ocean through the Gulf of Fonseca. Dhaka is the capital of Bangladesh.

``He always makes us sweat bullets,″ joked his father, Gary, 39.

Gary Beihl attributed homeschooling to the success of his son, who will remain in Washington for next week’s Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee.

A 13-year-old New York girl educated at home won the spelling bee in 1997.

David Beihl’s brother Tom, 11, and sister Debbie, 9, are also taught at home by their mother Penny Beihl, 39, who has a master’s degree in elementary and secondary education.

``We live way out in the country″ said Gary Beihl, who commutes an hour each way to his engineering job with Intel in Columbia, S.C . ``It makes us closer as a family.″

The final contest was close as many of the youngsters answered several questions before being eliminated. At one point, Trebeck joked that he would run out of questions before contestants.

The bee’s youngest competitor Mallika Thampy, 10, of Maryland Heights, Mo., was not stumped until the 96th question: In 1998 large pieces of the Larsen and Ronne Ice Shelves broke away from Antartica into what sea? Thampy’s answer ``Atlantic Ocean″ was not specific enough; it was the Weddell Sea.

She and six other finalists from Wednesday’s rounds received $500.

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