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Sartell 6th-grader heads to National Geography Bee

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

SARTELL, Minn. (AP) -- Folks in Sartell are making a fuss about the national academic success of a sixth-grader.

Tuesday is Gopi Ramanathan Day in Sartell. The electronic signs near the entrances to the city have already been running his name for the past week, and on Friday students filled the gym for a pep rally featuring Mayor Tim O'Driscoll sending off the middle school student.

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Ramanathan travels to Washington, D.C., on Monday to take part in the National Geography Bee. The bee starts Tuesday and ends Wednesday. He will be one of 54 students in grades four through eight in the national competition.

O'Driscoll has proclaimed Tuesday as Gopi Day in Sartell to coincide with the first day of the national bee.

"We are very proud of all the students at Sartell-Stephen ... and Gopi is just taking us to the next level, the national competition, the Geography Bee. We are pretty excited," O'Driscoll said.

In April, Gopi defeated 102 other youngsters to win the state bee and qualify for the trip to Washington.

His accomplishments and prowess have caught the attention of students and staff at the middle school.

"He has a pretty good following," said Lori Dornburg, a family and consumer sciences teacher who oversees academic activities for Sartell school district.

He'll be one of the youngest participants seeking the national title in the 22nd annual geography bee. The winner gets $25,000 in scholarships, a trip to the Galápagos Islands and a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society.

"I'm at least hoping to get in the top 10, if not win it," Ramanathan said last week near the end of the school day, sitting in a desk in a computer lab between Dornburg's class and the wood shop at Sartell Middle School.

The preliminary round is Tuesday. The top 10 make the finals Wednesday, with Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek as the moderator. National Geographic Network will televise the finals. Top 10 finalists each receive $500, and there also are scholarships for the second- and third-place winners.

It's big stuff for a young boy whose braces hide behind his soft smile. He became fascinated with geography after a stop in a Tokyo hotel on the way to Sri Lanka, the native country of his parents, Jajen and Vasugi Ramanathan.

"I started wondering where all the countries are located," Gopi Ramanathan said.

If only the geography bee were that simple. It's more than just locating countries and remembering names of mountains and rivers. Previous questions have asked participants which states have more rainfall and into what country specific rivers flow.

Ramanathan has been practicing when he has not had to work on making up the schoolwork he will miss when he is out of school most or all of this week.

The bee could be helpful to him later on. He says in the official Geography Bee program that he wants to be a geography professor at the University of Minnesota. "I think he is just overall an outstanding student," Dornburg said. "He can kind of soak up information. He doesn't forget things."

He is more than just a geography whiz. He tied for fourth in the regional spelling bee in March and also takes part in Knowledge Bowl, Math Masters, student council and in a program that is building an electric car. Next year he wants to play for the soccer team.

Ramanathan is taking in stride all the attention and performing on a big stage. He says he is a little nervous, but it doesn't show.

"It's pretty exciting. (The attention is) also shocking," Ramanathan said.

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