Cheering for all the right reasons at Pocopson

You can’t beat getting kids excited about learning

By Mike McGann, Editor,

Excited Pocopson Elementary students cheer for their classmates during Friday's Geography Bee.

POCOPSON — The crowd was going wild, waving signs saluting their hero of the day.

Was it a pro sporting event? TV show? A political rally?

None of the above. It was a geography bee. On the surface, that might seem like the strangest answer possible, but really, it’s one that should give us all some hope for the next generation.

And honestly, I was only there because my son, Kenny, earned a fourth-grade berth into the Pocopson Elementary School finals of the National Geographic Bee and he made it known in no uncertain terms that it was A Big Deal. And while you, like me, might suspect it was, well, kind of stuffy, it was anything but. Let me tell you, people were seriously pumped up.

Aside from the 30 kids on stage — including my son — there were a couple hundred more, yelling clapping — and yes, waiving signs they made for their classmates. Aside from being nervous for my son, who managed to get three of seven questions right, but didn’t advance to finals, it struck me how great it was to see kids cheering other kids, not for scoring a touchdown or being homecoming queen, but rather because they knew where the Danube River is located.

Pocopson prinicipal Dr. Andrew McLaughlin reads the rules for the final round of Friday's Geography Bee, flanked by finalists Jeffrey Lang (left) and Bryan Denmark (right). Both finalists are fourth graders.

Being smart and educated is cool and well worth cheering, something that seems forgotten all too easily in this era where we spend entirely too much time celebrating the latest moves of Snooki.

I grew up a bit of a geography geek and would have loved to have participated as a kid in an event like what I saw at Pocopson, which also took place at the other three district elementary schools. These kids were wildly impressive — some of them answering questions that even stumped me. And despite the big, cheering crowd of students and a capacity crowd of parents, these kids overcame any nerves they had and performed like champs.

And as 30 kids became eight — after a seven-question opening round, and those eight became four and then two, you could feel the excitement and tension build in the room — and finally explode when Bryan Denmark took home the title, barely outlasting Jeffrey Lang. In the final, championship round, Pocopson principal Dr. Andrew McLaughlin was forced to repeatedly quiet a student crowd that was chanting the names of the two finalists, rooting passionately for their classmates.

I can’t think of a better way to emphasize the value of learning by celebrating it in such a fun and exciting way. Even as the contest was going on, and students were eliminated, you could see them getting back slaps, hugs and high fives from the their classmates.

The gym at Pocopson Elementary School was abuzz with excitement, Friday.

In that spirit, I’d like to congratulate all 30 participants.

The winner: Bryan Denmark. Bryan can advance to the state final, if he can ace the very tough written test.

Runner up: Jeffrey Lang

The rest of the final four: Jack Lyons and Ryan Hastings.

The rest of the top eight: Eli Peterson, Drew Lenkitis, Ian Quain and Sweta Prasad.

And finally, the rest of the fourth and fifth grade students who participated:

Elizabeth Heldt, T.J. Malone, Amanda Yi, Libby Norris, Kate Barkowski, Kenny McGann, Katelyn Tsai, Brandon Misciagna, Carolyn Sirles, Alaina Darlington, Brandan Haubert, Audrey Lee, Jack Adams, Sebastian Graper, Ben Ke, Katie Beauchamp, David Kinane, Anthony DiBliaggio, Sean Rafferty, Jake McCloskey, Aidan BeVard and Amanda Panati.

All deserve applause — but I think it says a lot that all of these students got so much in the way of cheering already.

[EDITORS NOTE] — I’m not picking on the other three elementary schools. If anyone wants to send me the results of those Geography bees (or any other school activities), I’ll be delighted to put them up.

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