A seventh-grader at L.J. Hauser Junior High School will travel to Atlanta this weekend to compete in the fourth annual National History Bee, a competition that tests middle school students on their knowledge of history.
Justin Izaguirre, 12, of Riverside, qualified for the national finals by scoring high enough at the Chicago Region qualifying tournament in March. The national finals on June 6 through June 8 will feature 670 competitors from 37 regionals, according to Eric Huff, the director of the National History Bee.
Izaguirre didn’t even know the history bee existed until this year when Hauser decided to participate in the event for the first time. All Hauser students took an online qualifying test, and four Hauser students scored high enough on that test to compete at the Chicago Region: Izaguirre, fellow seventh-grader Gillis Aleksa and eighth-graders Daniela Pope and Jack Pipal. Only Izaguirre scored high enough at the regional competition to qualify for the national finals.
“I feel really proud of myself, actually,” Izaguirre said. “To make it to something that you didn’t even know existed, which you were starting without even knowing [about] it, is quite a good feeling.”
The National History Bee was largely developed by David Madden, a 19-time Jeopardy champion with a deep interest in history and history education. Unlike the National Spelling Bee, participants compete in groups and questions are posed that anyone in the group can answer.
Like Jeopardy, competitors have buzzers, which they click to give an answer. Competitors are given a succession of clues, getting more obvious as they go along, about a historical figure or event. The sooner one gives the correct answer, the more points one earns. The winner is the competitor who has the most points at the end of the contest.
Izaguirre says he wakes up at 5:45 a.m. each day to study for the history bee before school. He looks in the indices of history books to see what subjects have a lot written about them and studies those subjects.
Like many adolescent boys, Izaguirre is especially interested in military history. His interest was sparked in the fourth grade when he bought a book on wars from ancient Greece to the Iraq War. His younger sister, Celeste, saw that he was really fascinated by the book and saw a show about the German air force, the Luftwaffe, on TV and suggested that Justin watch it.
“That really started my interest in history,” Izaguirre said.
It also sparked an intense interest in World War II.
“That is my favorite of all things, so I have read [about everything from] the generals, to the leaders, to the battles, to even the tactics of some of famous generals like Erwin Rommel or Georgy Zhukov,” Izaguirre said.
Izaguirre says that he is interested in all aspects of World War II, but is especially fascinated by areas that typically get less attention in the United States.
“I would say that I am more interested in all of it, but if there was one area I would say the Eastern Front of World War II or the China or mainland Asia parts because … you read very little … about Burma, India, China, the Soviet Union,” Izaguirre said.
Izaguirre likes playing the board game Axis & Allies, which is based on World War II.
This weekend, in addition to the competition, he is looking forward to seeing Civil War battlefields and sights in and around Atlanta. His mother, father, sister and brother will accompany him as the as the family drives down to Atlanta.
Izaguirre has modest expectations for the national finals.
“Not to sound pessimistic or anything, but chances are I’m not going to win, but I do expect for myself to at least get past the first round,” Izaguirre said. “I want to see how far I can get before I finally go down.”