By Michelle Miller
---- — The pressure was on.
Cooperstown Central School seventh-grader Tommy Knight had won his school district’s fifth-and-sixth-grade geography bee the past two years, but this year, he was on a bigger stage competing in the middle school competition.
“I think I put the most pressure on myself,” Tommy said Tuesday after he was declared the champion.
Nerves played more of a factor this year, according to Tommy, because the stage and audience were bigger than when he competed in elementary school.
“Being here, using the whole auditorium, with the lights and three judges, it was a little bit of an experience,” he said.
Tommy said he studied hard to prepare for competition, which included 10 finalists who earned their seats after competing in a preliminary geo bee.
“I knew if there was pressure last year (people wanting him to pull a repeat win) there would be more this time around, “ he said.
Tommy was named a finalist after the eighth round because he was the only competitor not to miss a single question. Charles Gannon, Reilly Hall and Pierce Snyder then had to face off to see who would compete in the championship round. Pierce won that battle, but was defeated by Tommy, who answered all three final questions correctly. Pierce missed two.
Social studies teacher John Brotherton said he was not surprised Tommy won because he is a superior student in terms of geography knowledge.
“Of course I am happy for him. There was some pretty good competition for him though,” he said. “Pierce Snyder, who got second place, is also an outstanding student. Tommy is not your typical student — he has a broad knowledge and has a passion for it.”
Tommy said he went into the competition feeling confident because he had studied a lot and put in the work.
“The questions were pretty easy,” he said. “What is interesting is there always seems to be a recurring theme for me where some of the questions kind of relate directly to me and what I do. Like I always go to Montana and one of the questions was about Bozeman, which I drove through, and also my grandmother lives on Lake Champlain so I knew that one. It always seems like some year there is something that connects with me personally.”
The one thing Tommy said he has gained from all his experience competing is confidence.
“I never have really done very good in state competition and have never made it to a different round, but it really felt good and has driven me to study harder,” he said.
Tommy will have to take a written test to advance to states. He said although he will study more before the exam, he is not nervous about taking it.
“The test usually isn’t that hard,” he explained. “A lot of the questions asked during the bees are specifically geography questions and on the test you have cultural, historical and geographical questions so it is a nice little break. It is a lot less stressful because you are not in front of everybody and there are no other competitors except for yourself basically. But I do think there is pressure going into the test because I’ve been in (state competitions) two times so there is a little bit of pressure for me to get there again.”
Brotherton said he thinks Tommy will do well at the next level if he makes it. He said it would be nice to see CCS represented at nationals, but that is not the main focus.
“The ultimate goal is to have a fun competition where kids can kind of get on stage and show their knowledge of geography. It is something that is not taught as much anymore. It is an interesting aspect of history and a fun little thing to learn about, “ he said.
According to Brotherton, the district has never had a student move on to the national level before.
The bee is hard to study for because there is so much information that can be included, Brotherton said.
“That is where Tommy excels because his knowledge is so broad. The only ways to really prepare is to read a lot and study lots of maps,” he said.