When Archer Thomas was about 4 years old he pointed to a map inside a Maine Atlas and Gazetteer and said to his mother, “Look, here’s the town of tub.”
At first Thomas’ mother, Jean Whitney, could not figure out what her son was talking about. She had never heard of a town in Maine called tub.
But Whitney laughed when he pointed on the map to Bath, the city in Sagadahoc County.
Thomas’ deep love and knowledge of maps, history and geography will be put to the test on the national stage next week when he travels to Washington, D.C. as Maine’s representative in the 25th annual National Geographic Bee.
“Archer has always enjoyed geography,” his mother said. Archer lives in Buxton with his mother and father, Barnaby Thomas. “I like to tell people that he taught himself to read by looking at maps.”
The National Geographic Society, a nonprofit scientific and educational organization, created the national bee in 1989 in response to concerns about the lack of geographic knowledge among young Americans.
This year’s national geography bee will be moderated by Alex Trebek, the host of the long-running television quiz show “Jeopardy!”
Thomas will compete against 53 other geography geniuses from across the nation. Three college scholarships valued at $50,000 will be given to the top three finishers.
In addition to winning a $25,000 scholarship, the first place winner will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the Galapagos Islands — an archipelago of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean that are roughly 500 miles west of Ecuador.
The winner and one parent will travel to the Galapagos aboard the ship National Geographic Endeavour.
“Hopefully, Archer will become the national champion,” said Brian Cushing, Maine’s Geography Bee coordinator. “I think he may have a pretty good shot at it. He has been competing in the state bee since he was in the fourth grade and he is cool under pressure.”
The 13-year-old Thomas is currently enrolled as an eighth-grade student at Bonny Eagle Middle School.
Thomas finished in the top 10 of the state bee for four consecutive years before winning the 2013 contest by answering an obscure question about an island in the Pacific Ocean.
Cushing said the question asked for the name of a Pacific island country formerly called the New Hebrides that was governed jointly by France and the United Kingdom for 75 years before achieving independence in 1980.
The correct answer: the Republic of Vanuatu.
Steven Larkin, a student at Scarborough Middle School, finished in second place with Aaron Hyde, a home-schooled student from Harpswell, finishing third.
The state bee was held April 5 at the University of Maine at Farmington. One hundred students competed.
Thomas remains humble about his chances of winning the national bee. When asked if he was confident, he replied: “Not particularly. But sometimes I surprise myself.”
Thomas said there is no particular method that he uses to prepare for a geography bee other than pursuing his natural curiosity about a topic or country.
“I don’t study outright,” he explained in a telephone interview. “I just do what I always do and see where it takes me.”
Thomas, who is an avid reader and collector of maps, might find a topic of geographical interest in a newspaper or magazine article. He’ll then do further research on the Internet.
As for the pressure of competition, Thomas admits to being nervous but says he tries to maintain his focus.
During a bee, he always listens to the questions that are asked of his competitors and tries to answer their question “in my mind.”
His mother says her son maintains a large collection of maps and atlases that he never seems to tire of looking at. He also reads National Geographic magazine.
Thomas said he knew the answer to the question about Vanuatu because he had read about the country in an old atlas he keeps from the 1980s.
Thomas and his parents will travel to Washington on Sunday, and he will compete in a preliminary round on Monday. The finals will be held on Wednesday.
The competition will be tough, according to a press release issued by the National Geographic Society.
Ten of the students who will appear in the national contest are repeat state winners, with three of those students competing for the third consecutive year. Neelam Sandhu of New Hampshire was a top 10 finalist last year.
This year’s top 10 finalists are eligible for selection to the three-person team that will represent the United States at the National Geographic World Championship in St. Petersburg, Russia, from July 28-31.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: