Cochabamba is the fourth-largest city in Bolivia. You might not have known that fact, but these kids probably did.

Almost 70 Delaware students, including five from Dover-area schools, tested their understanding of Earth’s physical and political features during the state’s Geography Bee, part of the lead-up to the 26th annual National Geographic Bee, to be held in Washington, D.C., in May.

Once all the preliminary rounds were over, Eric E. Smith, of the Postlethwait Middle School, had emerged as a finalist, along with NINE other students.

However, when the competition was finished it was Sohan Shah, of the Independence School in Newark, who took first place by identifying the Kara Sea as the body of water that separates the Taylor Peninsula from the Nova Zelda Archipelago in the Arctic Ocean.

William Zimmer, of the Sanford School, Hockessin, and Tae Kyung Lee, of the Holy Angels School, Newark, were awarded second- and third-place prizes.

A thorough knowledge of geography is a valuable tool in today’s society, said Dr. Peter Rees, event moderator and emeritus professor of geography at the University of Delaware.

“All events occur at in time and in a place,” Rees said, adding that by learning geography, people can understand why events take place in certain areas and how those events affect what happens elsewhere.

“Not to have that knowledge is to miss out on half of what goes on in the world.”

Eric, a sixth-grader at the Camden school, has had a knack for geography, even as a youngster.

“My love of geography started with a puzzle, at Atlas puzzle,” he said. From that puzzle, which showed a map of the entire world, Eric has continued to build his storehouse of knowledge, and easily rattles off obscure names and places in remote corners of the world, barely pausing for breath.

In addition to Eric, other local students included Matthew Bieker, of Holy Cross, Skylar Melnick, of Dover Air Force Base Middle School, Zachary Schmiedlen, of Central Middle School and Jeremiah Stanford, of Parkway Academy Central.

Each of the students reached the competition after winning preliminary contests at their schools.

“It was exhilarating,” Zachary said. “I didn’t think I’d make it, so it was a surprise to me. I’m really glad to be here.”

Skylar studied geography by pouring over different maps of the Earth’s surface. Although initially worried about how she’d do, her anxiety waned as she got into the routine of the question and answer format, which included identifying features on maps and picking out details on photographs.

“I was really nervous at first, but it is really cool to be here with all the other kids,” she said.

Rees noted parents must encourage the study of geography since it appears Congress is reluctant to provide the money to help.

“The federal government has identified its core disciplines, of which geography is one, but it’s the only discipline that doesn’t have funding dedicated to support it,” he said.

Rees added he is doubtful the federal government will act to resolve that problem in the near future.

State champion Sohan Shah now will join winners from other states in the national competition with a chance to take home a $50,000 college scholarship as well as an all-expenses paid trip to the Galapagos Islands.

The national championship will take place May 19-21 in the nation’s capital.