A Superior Middle School student has been preparing for a state-level geography showdown.
Sixth-grader Mark Purcell earned the SMS red wing geography bee title, then won the school-wide competition Jan. 30, shutting out seventh and eighth grade competitors on the way.
“I think it’s pretty remarkable for a sixth-grader to win, but from what I hear, Mark has always been into geography,” said Christina Cassano, green wing social studies teacher and organizer of the SMS competition.
After taking an individual test, the 12-year-old ranked high enough to move on to the state National Geographic GeoBee in Madison March 27.
Due to restrictions put in place to halt the spread of COVID-19, the local geography whiz would have had to take the test in a Superior classroom, but out of an abundance of caution, Cassano said, the decision was made March 19 to cancel the state competition.
Purcell’s mother, Michelle, wasn’t surprised that her son made it to state. Geography has been one of his passions for years.
“From an early age he loved penguins,” she said. “He’d draw penguins and maps.”
Mark Purcell said he remembered picking up an atlas in first grade.
“I thought it was a picture book,” he said, and remembered looking through it over and over again.
As he learned to read, the colorful countries in books got names. Then history was layered on, making it even more interesting. It “just ran my little kid brain loose,” Purcell said.
These days, he likes to hop on the internet to research countries or pull out a sheet of paper to draw a map. And he shares his knowledge with his mom.
“He lists off countries I’ve never even heard of, I’ll be honest with you,” she said. “He just loves to list off, ‘Mom, what’s the capital of this country?’”
The GeoBee tests students' all-around knowledge of geography. They have to answer questions about geographic features, climate, exports and more. The 12-year-old Superiorite was hoping to do well at state and possibly advance to national competition in May.
However, the geography buff will have two more years to compete.
“This has just been his thing and it’s kind of funny because Mom was just telling him maybe it’s time to spread our interests out and get involved in other stuff, because I didn’t know how far knowing geography would take him in life, his little tidbits,” Michelle Purcell said. “Well, Mom was kind of wrong on that.”