The top three senior division students in Saturday's National Bible Bee finals took turns quoting passages of Scripture from memory for over an hour without making a single error, causing the contest – and the winner of the $100,000 grand prize – to be determined by a tiebreaker.
Officials of the fourth annual event, which was held in Sevierville, Tenn., turned to the students' preliminary challenge scores, including their written tests, to determine the winner after a deadlock in the final round. Though much was at stake in the competition, eventual winner Sophie Haire of Havre de Grace, Md., told The Christian Post on Monday that each finals participant wanted the others to succeed.
"It wasn't like it was an intense, hard competition that was grueling," said Haire. "It was like a family experience where we were all supportive of each other and wanted each other to keep going."
The 2012 Bible Bee marks the third year Haire has participated in the event. In preparation for the contest, which began Nov. 14 and ended Nov. 17, Haire spent between two and eight hours per day throughout the summer and fall studying and memorizing the necessary passages of Scripture.
"At times it would seem tedious, and I would wonder why I was doing it, but God would just give me this desire to learn more about His Word and so I would just keep plugging along. And it became more enjoyable, actually, down towards the last few weeks just because he gave me such a love for His Word at that point," she said.
The well-spoken teenager is dual enrolled as a senior homeschool student and a sophomore at a local community college. She plans to use all of her prize money to pay for her studies in the computer science program at University of Maryland Baltimore County.
"I'm really not sure what career I'd like to go into, I'm just following my academic interests and God will lead me wherever He wants me to go," she said.
Haire, who is eligible to participate in the National Bible Bee next year, says another benefit of the competition is the friendships she has formed with some of her competitors from over the years.
Tom Widdoes, vice president of operations for the Shelby Kennedy Foundation, the organization behind the Bible Bee, says competitors often become friends simply because they spend so much time together throughout the weekend.
"The people that come have reflected that the weekend ... is really like a family reunion," said Widdoes. "Even if they don't know somebody before they get here, there's such a like-mindedness with all of the families because they've lifted up the Word of God, and the kids as they've gone through the process have been sitting next to the same people."
Around 7,000 young people nationwide participated in the Bible Bee program in 2012 – a 20 percent increase from last year. Widdoes expects participation numbers to continue to climb, he says, due in part to the competition's new format.
In years past, Bible Bee organizers provided students with hundreds of memory verses at the beginning of the summer. The contest was meant to be a family discipleship program, but it became intellectually intimidating.
This year, organizers cut back on the amount of information students were required to study in preparation for local competitions. With the help of special guidebooks, parents can now effectively lead their children in their Bible Bee studies in about 20 minutes per day.
Those who qualify for nationals, however, are eventually faced with much greater intellectual challenges, including the memorization of several hundred verses of Scripture.
"The top 300, when they come here, it's a whole different ball game. They're the Olympians, they're the ones that have really studied and worked hard," said Widdoes.
The location for the 2013 National Bible Bee has not yet been announced, but Widdoes says one thing his organization always looks for are "family-friendly" locations. The next book of the Bible to be studied by the Bee's contestants will be revealed on June 1 – the same day most contestants will receive their study guides.
The finalists of the 2012 National Bible Bee and their prize amounts are as follows:
Senior Division (15 – 18 years of age):
1. Sophie Haire of Havre de Grace, Md. ($100,000)
2. Anne Floyd of Bath, Penn. ($25,000)
3. Rachel Gosz of Stillwater, Okla. ($15,000 plus an additional $2,500 for winning the Chairman's Oratory Award for excellence in recitation)
4. Lucy Alessio of Oakland, Mich.
5. Bethany Lee of Anchorage, Alaska
Junior Division (11 – 14 years of age):
1. Rionna Flynn of Cupertino, Calif. ($50,000)
2. Phillip Anderson of Palmdale, Calif. ($20,000)
3. Abigail Sutton of Kennesaw, Ga. ($10,000)
4. Kyle Tappendorf of Phoenix, Ariz.
5. Hannah del Toro of Quinton, Va.
Primary Division (7 – 10 years of age):
1. Olivia Davis of Salem, Ore. ($25,000 – this was her third consecutive year as top Primary, moves to Junior in 2013)
2. Taylor Bontrager of Kalona, Iowa ($10,000)
3. Andrew Berry of Westland, Mich. ($5,000)
4. Rebecca French of Los Fresnos, Texas
5. Forest Yang of Highland Heights, Ohio
All finalists received a number of other awards and scholarships as well.