Roosevelt Middle School’s two-time National Geographic Geography Bee school champ Jake Grant walked into this year’s championship round as an alternate, expecting to cheer on friend and fellow seventh grader Nick Fields. “I’ve been in it twice—give someone else a chance,” Jake said before the bee. Little did he imagine he’d be walking out of the competition with a third title.

With the competition ready to begin, only nine of the 10 semi-finalists—two from each grade—had gathered at the front of the auditorium. Though a few students were sure they’d seen Nick earlier in the morning, a quick check of the attendance list confirmed that he was in fact absent. “Oh, no,” and “No, no, no,” murmured the semi-finalists. “Jake Grant!” exclaimed an audience member.

“Jake’s obviously not invincible,” said grade six social studies teacher and bee moderator Tim Considine, referring to Jake’s alternate status this year. “But he’s very, very good.” As winner of the last two annual school-level bees, Jake was eligible to take an exam to see whether he qualified for National Geographic’s state-level bee. He passed both times and ended up ranked eighth in Illinois last year.

This year, the Roosevelt contestants went four rounds before the competition came down to a championship round between Jake and eighth grader Harry Engoren. What is it about geography that Jake finds so appealing? “I just like it because it gets you places, and you’re always going to need it,” he said. He added that he was sorry his friend was out sick but is glad to have a chance to compete once again at the state level. “Once you experience it,” Jake said, “you just keep wanting to go back.”

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Evan O'Brien

Evan O'Brien is the content manager of OakPark.com. Soon after Evan was born in Chicago, his family moved to Oak Park for the same reason that attracts people to the "World's Largest Village" today: the...