NORMAN — Do you know in which cities the 2009 Dakar Rally began and ended? Or in what country the first successful human-to-human heart transplant took place?
Whittier Middle School student Matthew Armor does.
Armor, who just completed the eighth grade, competed in the 25th annual National Geographic Bee in Washington, D.C. He was one of 54 students nationwide and the only student from Oklahoma in the national geography competition, which included students in grades four through eight.
Armor has been an avid fan of geography since he could read a map. His studies also fueled an interest in history.
“I just liked it naturally,” Armor said. “I don't have to use my history book in class. Whenever we were short on one, I let someone else use it. It didn't bother me.”
After placing first in Whittier's geography bee earlier this year, Armor and other local winners took a written test to further assess their geography knowledge.
The top 100 scorers advanced to the state competition, where Armor won first place.
In April, he was recognized in the Oklahoma Senate and House of Representatives for his victory on the state level.
Those unfamiliar with the bee system might think only physical land forms would be considered “geography,” Armor said, but politics, history and human geography are all included in the questions.
“I like studying the United States a lot, because it has very diverse geography,” Armor said. “My favorite area of history is from the Age of Discovery to the end of World War II, because it's so interesting and complex.”
Fun and friendship
On a typical evening, Armor spends about an hour reading about history and geography “just for fun.” But after he won the state bee, he began taking pretests on National Geographic's website and studying from books his school loaned him.
Armor made the trip to Washington accompanied by his mother, Gina, and the National Geographic Society welcomed the competitors with special events such as a trolley tour of the Capitol and a visit to the Library of Congress, which had a special exhibit featuring maps set up specifically for them.
Gina Armor said the young contestants bonded almost instantly.
“These kids were all on the same level,” she said. “They really enjoyed the sense of friendship they had with one another.”
Although Armor did not place among the top 10 finalists in the bee, he said the experience he gained was valuable.
“As long as I do my best, I'm proud,” he said.
And in case you are wondering, the 2009 Dakar Rally began in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and concluded in Valparaiso, Chile. The first human-to-human heart transplant took place in South Africa.