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The right answer: Jefferson County boys win first, third place in state GeoBee

By Staff | Apr 5, 2019

From right, state GeoBee winner Joss Poteet stands beside second-place winner Grant Kenamond and third-place winner Andrew Oyerly, at the conclusion of the event in Reynolds Hall on Friday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN – For some kids, learning is a grudging responsibility. But for Jefferson County’s two contestants in the state round of the National Geographic GeoBee, it’s a way of life.

The state GeoBee took place for the first time in the contest’s history on Shepherd University’s campus on Friday, drawing contestants from around the state to compete for the chance to go to the national competition in Washington, D.C.

Previously, the event has been held at Concord University, but its location changed this year due to the former GeoBee coordinator stepping down from his position.

“It’s the first time in the 31 years of the GeoBee, since 1989, that it’s been held in the Eastern Panhandle. We’re very pleased to have it here,” said new coordinator Katherine Hinson, mentioning the event was founded by National Geographic to “encourage knowledge of geography.”

According to Hinson, another first also happened at this year’s state round.

The final 10 contestants in the state round for the National Geographic GeoBee prepare for their questions to begin in Reynolds Hall on Friday. Tabitha Johnston

“This is the first time to give $1,000 to the prize winner,” Hinson said, mentioning the prize was formerly half that amount. “We had over 53 people who responded to our event invitation, and we’ve had a great showing from the north and west of the state.”

The process of getting to the state round was not an easy one, according to Wildwood Middle School teacher Claire Webb. Webb, who helped Hinson organize the event, said school GeoBee winners have to pass a qualifying exam to be invited to the state round.

As the GeoBee whittled away its contestants from 53 to the final round’s top 10 to the championship round’s final three, Jefferson County’s two competitors held strong.

Andrew Oyerly, a student at Shepherdstown Middle School, won third place in the GeoBee, while his parents, Ken and Joan Oyerly, supported him from their seats in Reynolds Hall.

“We’re really excited. He’s been studying and learning a lot in school, so it’s exciting,” Joan said. “He came in fifth grade and made it in the tie-breaker round. This is his first time in the top 10, in third place – this is great.”

For last year’s GeoBee winner Joss Poteet, an eighth grade student from Wildwood Middle School, his hard work throughout the year paid off for the second year in a row.

Poteet will be advancing to the National GeoBee in May, accompanied by Webb, who has been his mentor since he started competing.

“He was the 2018 champion and 2019 champion and the second runner-up in the 2017 championship. I had confident hope that he was going to win, but you never know what caliber of competition will be there,” Webb said of Poteet. “I’m just thrilled for him, because I know how badly he has wanted it and how hard he has worked for it.

“Last year he competed for the first time at the national competition, and with that experience and the studying he’s been doing, I think he’ll come ready to rock this year,” Webb said.

For Poteet, studying geography is not just a way of life – it’s his passion.

“I love geography, because it’s not just all about maps, but all about how the world works and why,” Poteet said, mentioning he hopes to place in the nationals this year.

Regardless of whether or not he places, Poteet said he will not regret the dozens of hours he spends studying every week.

“Love what you’re doing, and make sure you have a passion for it,” Poteet said. “Make sure you’re working hard.