Photo: Erin Kayata / Hearst Connecticut Media
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Contestants geared up before the geography at Middlesex Middle School in Darien, Conn. on Nov. 30, 2017
Photo: Erin Kayata / Hearst Connecticut Media
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Finalists of the Middlesex Middle School Geography with Barbara Ivey in Darien, Conn. on Nov. 30, 2017
Photo: Erin Kayata / Hearst Connecticut Media
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(From left) Michael Dong, Brandon Liu and James Leone were the final three contestants in the Middlesex Middle School Geography Bee in Darien, Conn. on Nov. 30, 2017
Photo: Erin Kayata / Hearst Connecticut Media
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Barbara Ivey with Middlesex Middle School Geography Bee winner James Leone on Nov. 30, 2017 in Darien, Conn.
Photo: Erin Kayata / Hearst Connecticut Media
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Middlesex Middle School Geography Bee winner James Leone on Nov. 30, 2017 in Darien, Conn.

DARIEN — What does it take to win a Geography Bee? According to Middlesex Middle School eighth-grader James Leone, a lot of studying books, past questions and atlases. The 13-year-old won this year’s school-wide National Geographic Bee after making the finals last year.

“I’m pretty happy right now,” Leone said after winning the contest Nov. 30. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this. I didn’t do as well last year, but I prepared a long time to get to this point.”

Leone competed against nine other classmates in sixth through eighth grade, all of whom received perfect scores on the qualifying rounds for the Bee held during social studies classes prior to the finals. Students needed to get seven out of seven questions correct in the classroom bee to qualify for the school final.

According to Barbara Ivey, the part-time aide at the Darien Library who has also been running the school-wide bee for 29 years, the competition just to get to the school-wide bee was stiff. She said 53 students at Middlesex got perfect scores and qualified for the tiebreaker which weeded out ten semi-finalists.

In the finals, the ten students faced a final round and a championship round. They had 15 seconds to answer each question in either oral or written format, pending on the question. The students also used maps to answer some questions.

The final questions focused on United States geography while the championship round between Leone and fellow eighth-grader Michael Dong featured questions about world geography.

Leone ultimately won after answering all three championship questions correctly.

“Geography has been his best subject since sixth grade,” Ivey said of Leone. “He’s worked really, really hard. He’s got videos, taken out books and made up games to remember rivers and mountains.”

Ivey added Leone worked with Dong to prepare for the Bee.

“Since Tuesday, the school has been buzzing with who would make it to the finals,” Ivey added.

Ivey will work with Leone on preparing to take an online test in February that will qualify him to compete in the state championship. In the meantime, fourth and fifth graders across the district will be picking their own school champion to also take the online exam to qualify for states.

ekayata@hearstmediact.com; @erin_kayata

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