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Michigan Teen-ager Wins National Geography Bee With AM-Geography Bee-List

May 27, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Knowing where Tagalog is spoken put a $25,000 college scholarship in the pocket of a 14-year-old Flint, Mich., boy Wednesday at the National Geographic Society’s fifth annual national geography bee.

Noel Erinjeri’s correct answer - the Philippines - put him one point ahead of the closest challenger and won him the championship during the last minutes of the grueling, hour-long competition, at National Geographic headquarters in Washington.

Michael Ring, 13, of Milford, Mass., fell to second-place and stayed there when he answered ″Indonesia″ after being asked, ″Tagalog is one of the three main native languages of which island country in Asia?″

Moderator Alex Trebek, host of the television game show ″Jeopardy 3/8″ pronounced Noel the winner four questions later. The final score was 4-3 after both boys answered three of the remaining questions correctly and missed one.

Noel, who attends Carman-Ainsworth Junior High in Flint, improved over his performance last year, when he finished fourth. The cool-headed teen-ager said last year’s experience gave him an extra measure confidence this year.

He said he managed to remain calm even though this year’s questions seemed more difficult.

″I wasn’t nervous at all,″ Noel told reporters after the competition.

He prepared for this year’s competition by ″reading everything I could get my hands on - books, magazines.″

Noel showed promise as a student ″from the very beginning″ and is very competitive despite his relaxed appearance, said his father, George Erinjeri, who moved to the United States from Cherpu, India, 21 years ago.

″He likes to take part in all contests. He was also in the spelling bee championship. ... He’s always liked competition,″ the elder Erinjeri said.

The 10 finalists, all between 11 and 14 years old, breezed through most of the 47 questions, which began with ″The Danube flows primarily in which cardinal direction?″ (Answer: East) and ″The Gambia, in West Africa, is almost completely surrounded by which other country?″ (Answer: Senegal).

A total of 6 million students participated in the bee, which began at the school level in December. Fifty-seven state-level winners - representing the states, U.S. territories and overseas dependents - competed for the 10 finalist slots Tuesday.

Noel, Michael and third-place winner Jeffrey Hoppes, 13, of Lancaster, Pa., will travel to London on July 2 to compete in National Geographic’s first international geography bee. Students from the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom will compete in that event.

Michael, who attends Mount St. Charles Academy in Woonsocket, R.I., won a $15,000 scholarship while representing Rhode Island in Wednesday’s bee. He placed third at the state level last year, and won’t be eligible to participate again next year because he’ll be in high school by then.

″I was very nervous,″ he said. ″It’s always a little disappointing when you don’t win first place after getting this far. But I have $15,000 and I’m going to London. I get to work with two of the best geography students in this whole country and perhaps we can bring back the gold medal for the United States in the international competition.″

Jeffrey, who won a $10,000 scholarship, said he plans to study extra hard over the coming year so he can nab first place next year. But he said he was happy with his performance Wednesday.

″I’m excited. I have a scholarship and a trip to London,″ said Hoppes, who attends Manheim Township Middle School.

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