Michael Borecki of Darien knows his way around the stage at the Welte Auditorium at Central Connecticut State University.

He should. As a finalist in the Connecticut Geography Bee, he has sat upon it five years in a row now.

For the third straight year, he walked away as state champion and will represent Connecticut in the National Geography Bee.

On April 5, 104 students in grades four through eight came to New Britain to compete in the 25th annual state geography bee. The contestants had to answer a series of 10 questions -- some multiple choice, some not -- that touch on world geography, current events, capitols, and cultural and physical geography.

Borecki, who is 14 and in the eighth grade at Middlesex Middle School, outlasted the competition by answering two of the last three questions correctly. The questions, such as "Which Russian city, home to the Hermitage Museum, lies on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland" would have stumped many adults. (The answer: St. Petersburg.)

Rody Conway, who attends the Foote School in New Haven, came in second. Matthew Vitalie, a sixth- grader from West Hartford, came in third, narrowly surpassing Emily Mitrione, of Wilton. Akash Jyothish, a sixth-grader at the Unquowa School in Fairfield, was among the 10 finalists who lasted through nine rounds.

The state contest has been won by a student from Darien the last six out of nine years.

William DeGrazia, state coordinator of the bee, said that's no coincidence. School districts that have teachers who are strong on geography, offer after-school geography clubs and spend time on the subject in the curriculum tend to have students who rise to the top in the competition.

"To be a global competitor, you need a sense of the world around you," DeGrazia said of why geography is important.

Barbara Ivey, the teacher at Middlesex Middle School who has coached Borecki for five years, said they spend nearly every afternoon together after school on either geography or the school's quiz bowl.

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Sample Questions
Question: Broadleaf deciduous forest is the predominant natural vegetation of which state -- Arizona or Ohio?
Answer: Ohio

Q: In which European country can you hear groups of people speaking the regional languages of Basque, Breton and Flemish?
A: France.

Q: Which country is not crossed by the prime meridian -- France, Morocco or Spain?
A: Morocco

Q: Sweet potatoes are grown east of Lake Albert in which country? -- Uganda or Mongolia?
A: Uganda.

"This year's questions were really hard," she said.

Borecki, who is a triplet, came with his own cheering section at the finals, including his parents and sisters, Lizzie and Claire.

Emily Mitrione, one of the six who got all the first-round questions right, said her strategy was to look for clues in the questions.

"If I hear a sea, I think of where that might be," said Mitrione. She was one of two girls in the final round of 10.

Robbert Van Batenburg, a seventh-grader at St. Thomas School in Fairfield, another finalist, said he prepares by reading a lot of magazines and atlases, and playing board games like Risk.

Karen Marchetti, of Easton, whose son Giorgio was also in the bee, said he has a world map taped to the wall in his room above his bunk bed and loves history.

"This was his year," she said of her son, an eighth- grader, finally making it to the state competition. Giorgio's teacher, Paula Henry, also came along for support.

Conway, the second-place finisher, missed on a question about which Canadian province hosts Niagara on The Lake -- it was Ontario, not Ottawa.

"It was mostly luck of the draw," he said. "I didn't come here to win. I came here to have fun."

As for Borecki, he has a different goal entirely. He wants to shake "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek's hand by making the top 10 in the nationals in May. Winning the top prize of $25,000 and a trip to the Galapagos Islands wouldn't be bad either, he said with a sheepish grin.