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.

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Middlesex Middle School Geography Bee finalists

Michael Dong

Kiran Ebrahimi

Reed Falkenrath

Peter Ferguson

James Leone

Brandon Liu

Peter McLean

Ayush Nafde

Maggie Russell

Harrison Slotkin

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