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Brashinger: MJHS geography bee winner has big goals

MokenJunior High School Principal Mike Rolinitis introduces James DiFiore school board as school's National Geographic Bee champifor current school year.

Mokena Junior High School Principal Mike Rolinitis introduces James DiFiore to the school board as the school's National Geographic Bee champion for the current school year. | Ginger Brashinger~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 20, 2013 6:14AM



Jimmy DiFiore, 12, is going to do more than just hope that the third time is the charm in his quest to be a regional, if not statewide, National Geographic Bee champion. He’s planning for it.

Jimmy, a seventh-grade student at Mokena Junior High School and a two-time member of the top 10 contestants in the school’s geography bee (as it is commonly called), took third place as a sixth-grade competitor last year. By tweaking his tactics a bit, he came in first place this year.

“I studied a little bit more, and I mostly just hoped that I would get lucky questions,” Jimmy said.

Most of that studying took place in his Mokena home with his parents, Amy and Ken, his sister Emma, 10, and their five pets.

Jimmy said he visited National Geographic magazine’s website, www.nationalgeographic.com, to take tests, which included questions supplied by the contest sponsor from previous years’ competitions.

He said he attempted the more challenging questions to prepare himself and studied maps and watched geography-related television programs.

But his secret weapon was “Grandpa Jack” Charron, who “called almost every day,” assisted by Grandma Emily, to quiz Jimmy.

“My grandpa was throwing random trivia questions around,” Jimmy said.

Amy DiFiore said Charron would call, ask a question and if Jimmy did not know the answer, would say, “Go find out and call me back.”

After winning this year’s MJHS competition — which came down to the wire in an extended competition against an eighth-grade friend — Jimmy is eyeing a much bigger prize next year.

To attain it, he will again have to win the school bee, get a top 100 score on a 70-question, written test (that must be completed in an hour) to qualify for the regional bee and then win the regional bee. This year, Jimmy did not qualify for the regional bee.

If he wins the regional bee, he then would qualify for the statewide geography bee.

“Next year I’m going to study a lot more, both for school and state, and try to make it to state,” Jimmy said.

He may have a new incentive to win. Emma will be eligible for the MJHS competition next school year, and she is eager to get involved.

“When he got in, it interested me,” Emma said. “I think it would be awesome if my brother and I were both in the competition.”

But she concedes that Jimmy’s experience and performance would give him the edge.

It’s a huge step up from geography champ at his school to winning the statewide bee. But Jimmy is dreaming big and is determined that no contestant will be more prepared for next year.

“The question I got tripped up on I might have been able to answer if I had looked at a map (of Southeast Asia),” Jimmy said.

The question was, “What country borders Vietnam and Cambodia?”

“It was Laos and I guessed Myanmar,” Jimmy said. “Now that I know what to expect, I’m going to start studying, not incredibly earlier, but earlier than I have (in the past).”

In the meantime, Jimmy will enjoy being the junior high’s geography champ — something Amy DiFiore is happy to see the school district making a “big deal” about — and will continue playing soccer and attending Boy Scout events as a member of Troop 725.

Jimmy’s best advice to prepare for the competition is to “know the basics before you study the harder stuff.”

And he knows he will have competition, but there’s an upside to that for Jimmy.

“I’ve learned that there are a lot of other people out there who like the same things I do,” he said.



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