Homeschooler David Beihl,
National Geography Bee Winner
By Linda Dobson
Gary and Penny Beihl lived in Texas when their three children were still preschool age. On a whim, homeschooling friends invited them to an upcoming seminar on the topic presented by Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore. On the eve of the seminar, baby Debbie got sick, and Gary attended the first day while Penny stayed home.
“He came home and told me, ‘Oh, you’ve got to go,'” remembers Penny, who had briefly taught early elementary grades in a small church school. She attended the following day. “I think the Moores convinced my husband about homeschooling somewhat more than me, but I did see some children I thought were homeschooled that seemed like very nice kids. That was impressive. I want my kids to do well academically,” Penny adds, “but I want them to be nice people, too.” The Beihl family decided to homeschool.
Homeschooler Discovered Love of Geography Early
Shortly after the decision was made, the family relocated to rural Saluda, South Carolina, where Gary works for Intel. If he gets home from work in time, he joins Penny, David, Tommy, and Debbie for a 4-mile walk before dinner. Soon after eating, David hits the sack, usually around 8:00 P.M., and then he’s off on his morning routing by 6:00 A.M. the next day, running a couple more miles with Dad if time allows before hitting his high-school classes by 8:00 A.M.
“I used to take science, English, American government, and Spanish through videotaped lessons,” David explains, “but now I only use the Spanish tape and I never watched the algebra video. My dad is pretty good with math so he helps me with that.” Mail-order Bible and typing classes round out the study course for this freshman.
Long before he was a freshman, the seeds for his favorite study, geography, were planted. “The National Geography Bee started 11 years ago,” David explains. “The first winner was an Adventist, like us, so there was a story about him in the church newsletter. Mom saw this and thought it might be fun for me to do someday. It has a $25,000 scholarship,” he adds, “which is a big incentive.”
Homeschooler David Beihl Learns about Competition
The little boy who started reading when he was 4 years old enjoyed learning the state capitals and studying geography for fun. He did decide to enter the National Geography Bee competition. “I really felt disappointed because I thought I could win, but I didn’t really know how hard it was,” David says.
In his second try the following year, David won the local competition and went on to place eighth in a state that televises the competition between the top ten contenders. “Having the state bee televised was good preparation for me for the national bee,” he explains, “because I learned how to act under the camera and lights.”
In his third attempt, David missed the state’s top ten. He was disappointed, but knew he had two more chances before he became too old for the competition. “I studied harder than I had before and we had the advantage of having new study materials that worked well for me.” (Author’s note: Sorry, gang, Penny is not divulging the name of the materials until her two youngest children pass the eighth grade limit on entering the National Geography Bee competition!) This time, David flew through the local and state competitions into the preliminary national competition.
He didn’t make the finals at the national level, but “the people who aren’t the top ten all sit in the audience and see what happens, even the things that happen off camera so they have a special advantage. A lot of the people who were in the top ten this year were sitting in the audience last year.”
David was down to the wire; 1999 was the last year he could participate in the competition. With hard work he made it to the national level, then leapt into the top ten to participate in the final competition. Before the preliminaries, David and his mother prayed for guidance on what to study. “Immediately,” says David, “we picked up a map of Central America that showed a small gulf off Honduras, which I learned is the Gulf of Fonseca.”
David explains: “You have two chances to miss a question. When you miss two questions, you’re out.” As the final competition progressed, the field narrowed to David and Jason Borschow of Puerto Rico. The two contestants received the same questions simultaneously. Jason couldn’t answer the first question. The answer to the second question involved – you guessed it – the Gulf of Fonseca. Both boys answered correctly. After Jason then missed a question regarding La Nina, David became the 1999 National Geography Bee champ.
As captain of the U.S. team of four, which included the 1998 second-place finisher, homeschooler J. B. Kizer, David participated in the subsequent International Olympiad, a competition reserved for the bee winners of the previous two years. David’s team captured the gold medal.
While he’s not yet sure where he’ll go to college or what he’ll study, David plans to put his $25,000 scholarship to good use soon. The family enjoyed the trip to Australia, another of David’s bee prizes.
David credits homeschooling for allowing him the time he needed to succeed in the geography bee. “I think my parents were able to help me study better,” he adds, “and to find ways to study that work for me. Even if you have the world’s best teachers, they can’t work with 20 or 30 children in a way that makes the best use of their different styles of learning; that’s just a fact. It works for a lot of kids that can do it, but if you want to really be able to have a special way that works best for you, then homeschooling may be a good option.”