First Girl in 17 Years Wins Geography Bee Title

Caitlin Snaring is second girl in bee history to take home the trophy.

ByNitya Venkataraman

May 23, 2007 — -- With calm determination, 14-year-old Caitlin Snaring snared a title on Wednesday that only one other girl in geographic history has held: She won the National Geographic Bee.

In Snaring's first-time run at the bee in the nation's capital, the home-schooled eighth grader from Washington state gave a flawless performance -- not missing a single question over two days of national competition -- and took home the title.

In the 19-year history of the National Geographic Bee, it has been 17 years since a girl was declared winner. A point that "Jeopardy" host and bee moderator Alex Trebek emphasized when he took over the podium and introduced the 10 finalists, of which Snaring was the only girl.

And if you thought that a middle school national geography bee was nothing more than international capital cities and geographic boundaries, you'd be wrong. Questions directed toward contestants in the National Geographic Bee viewed the subject of geography through the lens of sociology, anthropology, history, language and current events.

Snaring took the lead in the fourth championship round against competitor and second-place winner Suneil Iyer when she correctly identified Lampedusa -- a Mediterranean island known as a destination for illegal African immigrants trying to enter Europe -- as an administrative entity of Italy. (Iyer incorrectly answered "Spain.")

In the fifth and final championship round, Snaring correctly identified the city divided by a river of the same name, an important cultural center of Vietnam, as "Hue." She was immediately announced the winner; and promptly burst into tears. (Iyer's answer: "Ho Chi Minh.")

After her win, at the center of a swirl of reporters, contestants and parents, Snaring credited her home schooling for giving her the flexibility to prepare for the bee.

"[I] integrated all my subjects with geography," she said, explaining that she studied 60 hours a week to prepare, using maps and language as her guides.

"I knew I could do it," she said excitedly. "And I wanted a girl to win this."

While Snaring's not sure how she'll celebrate her victory tonight, she's putting her $25,000 prize money toward "going to a good college." Long an admirer of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Snaring suggested Stanford, where Rice was once on the faculty and a provost, as a potential option.

For Snaring's grandmother, Betty Hedge, who came from Seattle to watch her granddaughter's success from 5 feet away, the distinction as the second girl to win the bee in the contest's history was "the utmost."

Snaring will go on to compete for the international title in the National Geographic's World Championship this August in San Diego.

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