Maps have always held a special appeal for William Nylander.
"Me and my brothers would use them to play childhood games and stuff," the 14-year-old Townsend resident said. "We would pretend we were flying around the world or villains going from this town to that town."
The eighth grader at Everett Meredith Middle School said those games fostered a life-long interest in geography that culminated Friday in a second-place finish at the Delaware National Geographic Bee, held this year at Alfred G. Waters Middle School near Middletown.
After outlasting 53 other middle school students from throughout the state, Nylander and Kevin Orzada, an eighth grader at the private Independence School in Newark, each missed one of the three questions that made up the championship round, resulting in a series of single-elimination questions in which the final two contestants were required to write down their answers.
Both teens answered the first tie breaker correctly.
The final decision came down to the question, "Walvis Bay, one of the largest ports in Namibia, was ruled by what country until 1994?"
Orzada correctly answered South Africa, while Nylander guessed Portugal.
"I almost changed it to France, but it didn't matter because neither one was right," said Nylander, who finished in fourth place as a sixth grader and 13th place as a seventh grader. "I wouldn't say finishing second this year is bittersweet, because my goal was to make it to the top three, so I'm really pleased."
Nylander's mother, Wanda, said she's immensely proud of her son, and not just for his performance on Friday.
"Even in preparing for the event, he's gained so much knowledge of the world, and not just where places are, but the cultures, the ethnic groups, the languages – so much," she said. "And it increased his overall interest in learning in general because it's created new areas of interest and inspired him to learn about other things."
Nylander wasn't the only local student to earn a strong finish at this year's state geography bee, which was sponsored by National Geographic and Google.
Bear resident Saman Verma, a sixth grader at MOT Charter School, also was a top ten finalist.
"I think I did great," Verma said after being one of four contestants eliminated by a question about Ponce de Leon's discovery of the gulfstream. "I mean, I did my best. I was nervous and the questions were really hard."
Other students who made it to the finals included sixth grader Margaret Coons of Wilmington Friends School, sixth grader Tomasz Mroz of Henry B. duPont Middle School, seventh-grader Sean Burg of George Reed Middle School, seventh-grade home schooler Marshall Smith, eighth grader Miguel Hurtado of All Saints Catholic School, eighth grader Dominic Morrell of Central Middle School, and eighth grader Charles Quimby of Tower Hill School.
Page 2 of 2 - Delaware winner Kevin Orzada will next compete in the preliminary roads of the national contest in Washington D.C. on May 20.
The top ten finishers in that competition will square off in the national championship round – moderated by "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek – at the National Theater on May 22. The National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo WILD will air the championship round at 7 p.m. on May 23.