Middle school student heading to state geography bee

JIM VAIKNORAS/Staff photo Amesbury Middle School seventh-grader John Nelson will compete in the Regional Championship of the National Geography Bee at the end of March.

AMESBURY — Amesbury Middle School Vice Principal Steve O’Connor has high praise for his geography bee champion John Nelson.

“He is an actor, he is an athlete, he is a scholar,” O’Connor said. “He is 13-year-old renaissance man.”

Just coming off his 20th season advising the AMS’ chapter of the National Geographic Bee, the former history teacher with a B.S. in Geography said that Nelson’s geographic prowess goes well beyond the seventh-grader’s years.

“His knowledge in geography is like that of a college professor,” O’Connor said. “He is so on top of it.”

In fact, Nelson is only the fifth AHS student in the past two decades to qualify for the Massachusetts Geography Bee and will be headed down to Worcester later this month to put his hometown on the map on the road to what he hopes is the national round of the Geography Bee sponsored by National Geographic in Washington D.C., and broadcast on ESPN this spring.

“I am extremely proud and excited to represent Amesbury,” Nelson said. “I have seen videos from prior state-wide and national challenges and the competition is going to be fierce.”

Tough competition should not phase this seventh-grade travel team basketball power forward. Nelson has already come out on top of every social studies class at AHS.

Beginning in October, each of the middle school’s 10 teams in all four grades was pitted against each other to determine the two best geographic minds on each team. O’Connor hosted the Amesbury Geography Bee broadcast on Amesbury Community Television just before all the snow started to fall in January with only Nelson, Caroline Schissel and Leif Riley left standing.

“American geography is the first couple of hundred of questions,” O’Connor said. “But I would say John’s strength is his knowledge of the world. He was waiting for that and he did not get one question wrong in the beginning and all the way through until I got it down to two people left. And out of the eight questions I gave, he only got one wrong.” 

Other than now knowing Mark Twain’s birth state (it’s Missouri and Nelson promises never to forget it) Nelson came out on top with Schissel coming in second and Riley third. The winning results were sent off to National Geographic and Nelson found out he was going to Worcester this week.

“I was in disbelief,” Nelson said. “I was so happy.”

An avid reader, Nelson also makes use of Sheppard Software geography games to prepare for his geography bees and will be accompanied to the Massachusetts Geography Bee by his family and social studies teacher Sam Bragg.

“I like geography because it can be applied to some much around us,” Nelson said. “Geography is where we are and it effects who we are also.”

Although he has sent four students to the state competition in the past, O’Connor feels that Nelson’s chances are much better to move on this year given the stringency of the exam he administered in January.

“That is a PHD level exam and this year they upped it,” O’Connor said. “It is not just multiple choice, there are some written questions in it. For a guy who is committed to the science and the knowledge of geography, sometimes the questions will not break your way. I have seen it happen over the years that I have been doing it, a kid will go in that I know is the favorite, who is far beyond anyone but will get a bad break or a bad question. John, with his knowledge, he was not going to permit a bad break. He is the whole package.”

Multiple choice or essay exam, whatever the bee will thrown at him, this young New England Patriots fan has one thing on his mind.

“We’re on to Worcester,” Nelson said.

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