by Dennis Dalman
Fans of the state Geography Bee are still impressed by what amounts to a four-time deja vu.
For the fourth time, Gopi Ramanathan of Sartell again competed at the state level last week, and – for the second time – he won it, qualifying him for competition May 22-24 in Washington, D.C.
Now an eighth-grader at Sartell Middle school, Ramanathan won the state and advanced to the national contest in 2010, when he was in sixth grade.
What’s also remarkable – another form of deju vu – is that also for the third consecutive year, Ramanathan faced off in the final rounds against competitor William Bogenshultz, an eighth-grader from Ramsey Junior High School in St. Paul. Gopi won over Bogenshultz in 2010; the next year Bogenshultz won and went to nationals; and this year Ramanathan squeaked past Bogenshultz for the victory by answering “Estonia.”
The question: What Baltic country replaced its monetary unit the ‘kroon’ with the ‘euro’ and is the most recent country to joint the Eurozone?”
That winning answer occured during the last three questions asked at the competition, which took place at St. Cloud State University where students in grades 4-8 competed against one another. Ramanathan answered about a dozen questions correctly throughout the day, including those last three.
Bogenshultz missed “Estonia” in that final round of three questions, making Ramanathan the champ. The judges awarded him $100 and a DVD player.
Bogenshultz won second in the event. Third place went to Alex Conrad from North Branch, who is a sixth-grader at Valley View Middle School.
In 2010, when Ramanathan won the state championship, Sartell proclaimed a “Gopi Ramanathan Day” in his honor.
There were 101 competitors at the Minnesota Geography Bee. Only seven of them were girls, although two of those girls finished among the top 10 competitors.
Ramanathan’s advisor, Lori Dornburg of Sartell Middle School, observed the Bee with intense suspense and was thrilled when, once again, Ramanathan was the winner.
“He’s an amazing young man,” Dornburg said, “and so is his brother.”
That brother, Janagan, also competed in the Bee. He is a fourth-grader at Pine Meadow Elementary School. In preliminary rounds, Janagan answered seven of eight questions correctly but did not make the final rounds because quite a few competitors answered eight-of-eight questions correctly. Because of that, there were many tie-breaking questions asked.
Dornburg explained how the event was organized. For the first rounds there was a series of practice questions. Then, groups of about 10 students from throughout Minnesota, were divided up into groups in separate rooms. That number was narrowed down to 10 students in the final round. By the time it came down to the champion round, there were three questions that decided the champion.
Ramanathan is the son of Gajen and Vasugi Ramanathan, who immigrated to the United States from Sri Lanka about 10 years ago. Sri Lanka is the island nation just off the southern tip of India. It was during a trip to Sri Lanka in the summer after kindergarten that Gopi became intrigued by geography.
During a lay-over at the Tokyo airport in Japan, he was fascinated by hearing a different language spoken. He looked up Japan and Sri Lanka in an atlas and – almost instantly – became “hooked” on geography. That same fascination carried over to his younger brother some years later.
Dornburg said the entire Ramanathan family is constantly supportive of their children and their love for geography. Their living room, for example, is literally covered with various maps. The brothers always tune into news shows daily just to keep up with what is happening in the many countries throughout the world. They also enjoy delving into atlases and studying all aspects of geography.
If Ramanathan wins at the national level, he will be honored with a $25,000 scholarship and a trip to the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean west of Ecuador – islands made famous by the explorations of famed naturalist Charles Darwin, the main founder of the theory of evolution.
Ramanathan said he hopes someday to become a government employee in the international field so his extensive knowledge of the world and its cultures will stand him in good stead.