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Fowler student heads to state geography bee

Second time could be the charm for Tigard eighth-grader


by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Fowler Middle School student Mike Coloma will battle it out in the Oregon State Geography Bee on Friday.It’s time for a pop quiz.

What is the capital city of Honduras? Name the fourth longest river in the world, and the official religion of Bangladesh.

Mike Coloma knows the answer to all these questions and more. Many more.

Mike, 14, is headed to the 2014 Oregon State Geographic Bee on Friday for a shot at the national championship next month.

Open to students between fourth and eighth grades, the state for 26 years has been taking the best of the best for a day-long contest to see who knows more about the world.

It’s the type of event the Fowler Middle School eighth-grader has been studying years for, said his father Dale Coloma.

“He’s a walking map,” he said.

By age 4, Mike had all the bridges in Portland memorized, said his mother, Sharlotte Coloma said.

“When he was 5, we had to buy him a state atlas in every color,” she said. “He would sit on the couch, and he would read it all. He would tell me how to get from Oregon all across the country.”

Globes, atlases and maps can be found in many rooms around their home. Social studies is one of Mike’s favorite subjects in school. In his free time, he likes to read Google Maps online, studying the streets of Portland or Seattle, and learning the provinces of Spain.

“I think it’s really cool to study maps, and I think it’s a lot of fun,” Mike said. “Country names change, or they get independence, or get annexed by another country.”

There’s always something new to learn, he said.

Although the 14-year-old has yet to visit any of the other countries he’s studied, he plans to one day travel the world.

“My family heritage is in the Philippines,” Mike said. “Hopefully, when I get there, I’ll be able to read the maps and know my way around.”

New things to learn

You can learn a lot from maps, Mike said. You can learn about languages, history, religion and the different cultures of people all around the world.

“I’m learning something new that I never knew before,” he said.

The 2014 Oregon Geographic Bee is Friday at Western Oregon University, where Mike will square off against 100 students from across the state.

There’s more to it than knowing the capitals on a map, he said. Contestants need to know the names of rivers, mountains, deserts and other land masses as well as information about the cultures of various countries.

Mike first got involved in the bee two years ago as a sixth-grader, when his school held a small competition. He placed third without studying.

The next year, he qualified for the state competition, where he placed 17th out of 102 participants after giving a single wrong answer.

The winner of Friday’s competition receives $100 and a trip to Washington, D.C., to represent Oregon in the National Geographic Bee in May.

If Mike wins that, he’ll receive a $50,000 college scholarship, a trip to the Galapagos Islands and a lifetime membership to the National Geographic Society.

Mike faces an uphill battle. No Oregonian has ever won the National Geographic Bee, though a Beaverton student took home second place in 2009. Washington holds the record for most wins, with five champions since the bee’s beginning in 1989.

“If I win, well, it will be big,” he said. “I’m going into this saying that I am going to win.”

The answers to the pop quiz, by the way, are Tegucigalpa, the Mississippi River and Islam.

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