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Brentwood students test their knowledge in geography

Stephanie Hacke | South Hills Record
Brentwood Middle School's National Geography Bee contest winners Adam Hoebler, 14, left, who came in second place in the competition, and Joey Thomas, 14, right, who placed first.

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Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, 3:02 p.m.

His classmates spent weeks huddled around the computer, studying maps and learning intricate details about world geography.

However, Joey Thomas' studying came in the form of watching one of America's most popular game shows: “Jeopardy!”

The Brentwood Middle School eighth-grader attributes his wide-use of vocabulary and ability to process complex questions, along with his confidence speaking in public, for his success during a geography competition last week.

“A lot of the things that throw people off are how they're worded. It doesn't even have to do with geography,” said Joey, 14, noting he watches “Jeopardy!” nearly every other day and also is part of a public speaking group.

Forty-two sixth- to eighth-graders at Brentwood participated in the school-level National Geographic Bee competition, sponsored by Google.

The geography bee, held in the Brentwood Middle/High School auditorium last Thursday, was a double-elimination contest where questions covered the gamut, from state nicknames and quarters to continents, said Katy Flaherty, Brentwood's long-term substitute gifted program teacher. Their difficulty also varied.

The final question for the win was: “The North Country Nation Scenic Trail passes through which state that borders Pennsylvania and Indiana?”

The answer? Ohio.

Joey came in first at Brentwood, getting that question correct. His win followed six competition rounds and a championship contest. Eighth-grader Adam Hoebler, 14, finished second.

Joey now will take a written geography test and as many as 100 of the top scorers in Pennsylvania will be eligible to compete in a statewide competition. The state winners then will advance to a national competition in May, moderated by Jeopardy host Alex Trebek.

All Brentwood Middle School students had the opportunity to participate in the school-level competition, Flaherty said. Students learned about the opportunity during their social studies classes.

Most of the student's who participated in the geography bee, did so because they enjoy the subject, they said.

“We find the kids who have the natural interest are really the ones that shine,” Flaherty said.

Geography simply comes easy to some people, Joey said. For Joey and Adam, geography ranks in the top of their favorite subjects, they said.

“It's something that we're good at,” Joey said.

Having confidence on stage also was important, Brentwood's top scorers agreed.

“A lot of people messed up because they couldn't think straight,” Adam said, noting nerves and stage fright got in the way of some students' ability to answer questions properly.

But that's what school is about – getting students comfortable and learning how to handle new situations, Flaherty said.

“I'm always a huge fan of anything that gets kids talking in front of a crowd,” she said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or

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