Which state has a longer coastline — Maine or Rhode Island? Or here’s one: The Indus River meets the Arabian Sea on which continent? Perhaps you can name the two oceans separated by the Panama Canal?
Now imagine being on stage while answering those questions in front of an audience and judges — that’s the idea behind a Geography Bee, or GeoBee.
“You really just have to know the whole world,” explained Gunnison Middle School student Achilles Gomez.
Earlier this year, Achilles made history as one of the first Gunnison students to qualify for the state GeoBee. Students must win their school GeoBee before taking an online test, which then determines the top 100 students to attend the state competition.
It’s not entirely surprising, given he was the first student in Gunnison to win the school GeoBee three years running starting in the sixth grade.
“He’s super brilliant,” said his grandma Mary. The knack for knowing names and places comes naturally to Achilles.
Although, when he was in sixth grade, Achilles misjudged the date of his first school competition.
“He said, ‘I think the GeoBee is in a week,’” recalled Mary. “And then he got in the car at the end of the day with a medal.”
Whether it’s knowing the name of a surface current that changes with the seasonal monsoon in South Asia or most populous city in Angola — there’s a few tricks of the trade, said Achilles.
Really it comes down to the roots of different languages, he said.
“If it has an English root — well, where has Britain conquered?” joked Achilles.
More than anything, what captures him when it comes to geography is the nature of extreme climates found in close proximity — a mountain range meeting the desert, or even the stark contrast of Australia, a dry desert climate being surrounded by oceans on all sides.
Achilles recently secured a top spot in the state GeoBee competition in Denver on March 27. However, Achilles alongside other students throughout the state were notified this week the event was cancelled due to concerns regarding the coronavirus.
“It’s been three years and I finally get to the state level,” said Achilles. “It’s just like, ‘Finally!’ I get to … not go to Denver.”
Rather than host an event for the GeoBee, the National Geographic Society elected to shift plans for the state level and cancel the in-person events planned on March 27 in all locations.
Instead, the test will be administered at school through an online format.
While it’s not what Achilles initially envisioned, he’s still proud to have earned a spot at state.
When he’s not studying geography, Achilles enjoys art, music and according to his grandma has the innate ability to fix almost anything.
“I’m really into art,” said Achilles, who said anything goes, whether it’s graphics, writing or drawing.
Achilles also plays the saxophone, piano, clarinet and guitar — although he and his grandma Mary attest the guitar could use some work.
And if he’s learned anything throughout his studies, it’s that geography matters, especially when it comes to things like the coronavirus.
“If anything it’s helped me come up with places I don’t want to travel,” joked Achilles. “You really assemble a do-not-travel list once you learn.”
(Kate Gienapp can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)