Sean Rawlins and Michael Kempnich, both 14 years old, posed for a picture yesterday after competing in the annual Hawaii Geographic Bee held at the Hawaii Convention Center. Kempnich, a student at Emmanuel Lutheran School on Maui, took first place and Rawlins, from Kamehameha Schools on Oahu, placed second.

Bee winners know
their places

A Maui student wins first place
in the annual Hawaii geography

Fourteen-year-old Michael K. Kempnich of Kahului, Maui, can tell you that Tunis is the African capital city only 150 miles from Sicily.

Knowing where Tunis (the capital of Tunisia) is put Kempnich above nine other finalists to win the 17th annual Hawaii Geographic Bee yesterday at the Hawaii Convention Center.

The eighth-grader from Emmanuel Lutheran School went neck and neck with runner-up Sean Rawlins of Kamehameha Middle School for four rounds before the championship was decided in a tiebreaker. Rawlins' answer was Tripoli -- just slightly off the mark.

Rawlins, also 14, once rescued his family from "driving around in circles" by finding the right directions on a map when he was only 3 or 4, said his mother, Shay Rawlins.

When she saw her son among the three finalists, she said, "I put on my sunglasses and just started crying. I was so, so proud."

Equally glowing praise came from Kempnich's geography teacher, Gail Orde, who taught the grand-prize winner in the second, third and fourth grades. She called Kempnich "an excellent student."

It was Orde who "inspired me," said Kempnich, who added that memorizing minute details and foreign words is not easy, but "I work really hard at it." This is the fourth time he has competed in the state bee.

He said his dad helps quiz him, and his brother William, only a third-grader, is always "trying to see if he can get it (the answer) before I do." Kempnich wants to become a marine biologist and visit Greece one day.

Rawlins plans to be a civil engineer and wants to "explore the world and make a difference ... some sort of positive impact on the world." He started reading National Geographic magazine a few years ago and is fascinated by different cultures.

His social studies teacher, Renee Teraoka, said this was Rawlins' first time in the state-level rounds. "He's so gifted; I'm always impressed by the amount of knowledge he has," she said. "It's years of just reading books and watching Headline News every morning."

Third-place winner Laurie Jahraus of Hilo, a home-schooled eighth-grader, was the only female of the 10 finalists. Jahraus said she and her siblings are proficient in geography because her family travels a lot to different places for vacations.

Longtime judge Bob Shohan, a retired geography instructor, said 30 percent of geography bee contestants historically have been female.

The contestants' depth of knowledge "always leaves me amazed," Shohan said. Jon Goss, University of Hawaii geography professor, added, "These are top-notch kids."

Shohan said, "We thought they would drop like flies" in the fifth round, when they had to identify cities and countries using only "pinpricks of light" on photos of maps taken at night. The darkened maps showed few geographical details and no borders, and the students had only 15 seconds to look at them before providing an answer, but only one person missed it, Shohan said.

Kempnich will go on to Washington, D.C., to compete in the National Geographic Bee on May 24-25. The competition, sponsored by the National Geographic Society, began in 1989 in response to concern about the lack of geographic knowledge among young people in the United States.

E-mail to City Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- https://archives.starbulletin.com