Thetford Hosts Geography Bee

Thetford — The first question at the first Thetford Geography Bee was about Mount Logan, the second-highest peak in North America. The second one was about the Olympics.

“The 2010 Winter Olympics were held in Vancouver, British Columbia,” said Bill Bugg, the head of Thetford Academy, looking out at a lineup of long tables, signs adorned with capital letters and eagerly listening students.

In 1988, he asked, which Canadian city hosted the event? Consider:

A: Edmonton; B: Ottawa; C: Calgary; D: Toronto.

The 12 students, divided into four equal teams, got to work, scribbling down possible answers on green scrap paper, leaning over each other to confer, quickly and quietly.

“Ten seconds,” said Dean Whitlock, the timekeeper.

They readied their signs. The 30-second discussion period ended. The letters were lifted.

“The answer is C, Calgary,” Bugg said. He scanned the teams. “Which Way Is North,” the team from Strafford’s Newton School, took the only point that round. And so it went, a competitive joust among four teams from the Newton School and Thetford Elementary School in which they took on 30 multiple choice questions — all about the United States and Canada — for bragging rights and geography-related prizes.

Those four teams represented the youth division, which encompassed eighth grade and below. Behind them, a row of tables held the adult division, which technically referred to grades nine and up, but was made up entirely of actual adults. They were asked 30 separate questions, alternating their turns with the kids’.

According to Steve Niederhauser, who teaches social studies at Thetford Academy and helped put the event together, turnout was sparser than expected, which forced the condensing of the divisions. All of yesterday’s proceeds will be earmarked for the Hughes Barn Museum on Route 113, he said, to renovate and appraise its artifacts, some of which could be valuable.

It’s the beginning of fundraising and consciousness-raising for the museum, he said. According to Bugg, yesterday’s event raised roughly $200, mostly through entry fees.

For the full two hours, the students’ portion was hotly contested, as Which Way Is North fought to catch up with a narrowly leading team from Thetford Elementary. By the last question, the Thetford Elementary team had a one-point advantage over its Strafford counterparts.

So, Question 30, the nail-biter:

“Where was the first English colony in the new world?” Bugg asked. “A: Massachusetts; B: Virginia; C: Maryland; D: Connecticut.”

Immediately, Eamon Deffner, a fifth-grader in a Christmas sweater, began to rock back and forth in his chair, whispering to Lily and Casey MacVeagh, also fifth-graders, who sat on either side of him.

“Massachusetts,” he told them, almost too loudly. He then dug deeper into his memory. He pulled out years and other factoids with no bearing on the question.

Time ended. He flung up the card with a giant “A” on it. Which Way Is North chose right too, but it didn’t matter; the Thetford Elementary kids retained their lead, answering 23 out of 30 questions correctly compared with Which Way Is North’s 22. A team called “Not The Brightest” got 20; the “Know-Nothings” answered half correctly.

“They’re impressive,” Bugg later said.

Eamon grinned and fist-bumped each of the MacVeagh sisters, rocking back and forth all the while.

“It’s just great to be a part of this,” Eamon said after the win.

A few minutes later he left, regaling friends and family with his knowledge of the Roanoke colony. The name of the team he had just piloted to victory was “I Don’t Care.”

Jon Wolper can be reached at or 603-727-3248.