Jake Tokosh, a junior from Panther Valley High School, knows his stuff when it comes to current events, geography, and local and state history. He proved his expertise last night by winning first place in the 18th annual Pennsylvania Citizen Bee at the Jim Thorpe Courthouse after acing both a written test of general citizenship knowledge and an oral examination.

"Every year, I am just amazed at the young people that you bring to us to participate in this event. You guys really rock," said Maureen Donovan, the moderator for the Citizen Bee oral competition. "The sky is the limit to all of you."

Tokosh is the son of Lora Tokosh. He plans to major in communication and film while attending either St. Rose College or Hofstra University.

Lehighton Area High School senior Peter Petrack, the son of Jessica Fahey-Petrack and the late Pete Petrack, earned second place during the competition. Lehighton junior Alden Everett, the son of Kelly and Terry Everett, earned third place. Marian Catholic High School junior Andrew Kelly earned fourth place. He is the son of Colleen Kelly and Hugh Dougherty.

As first place winner, Tokosh received a check for $300. Petrack was awarded $200, and Everett and Kelly both received $100. Each student in the competition received a certificate for participating.

This year's Citizen Bee was peppered with veteran competitors. When asked to declare how frequently they had participated in the contest, nearly half revealed that they were returning for their second, third, or fourth year. High school seniors Vaughn Reese of Northern Lehigh, Timothy Miller of Marian, and Matthew Caccese of Weatherly were all attending their fourth Citizen Bee, having taken part in the competition since their freshman year of high school.

"I am very impressed. You are such an accomplished group of young people already, and your futures are going to be very bright," said Donovan after hearing from each student and their plans after high school.

The Pennsylvania Citizen Bee is sponsored by the TIMES NEWS, Lehigh Carbon Community College, state Sen. David Argall, and state Rep. Jerry Knowles, and coordinated by George Taylor, the editor of the Bethlehem Press. Taylor has been active in the event since its start 18 years ago.

The competition was divided into two segments. Students first completed a 30-minute written exam and then answered five rounds of oral questions in front of family and friends. Each round covered topics featured in local and national newspapers or taught in local classrooms, including current events, U.S. and Pennsylvania history, economics, and geography.

The Pennsylvania Citizen Bee was once part of a national and statewide competition. While the national and state levels of competition no longer exist, Taylor and TIMES NEWS Publisher Fred Masenheimer have continued to support the program in Carbon County, offering a chance for students within the TIMES NEWS readership area to test their knowledge against their peers.

"A democracy depends on an informed public, in terms of education and the media," said Taylor, noting that to excel in the Citizen Bee, students must pay attention to the news and current events while also remaining well versed in history. This can prepare them for a lifetime of good citizenship.

"Many of their life decisions will be based on keeping up with current events," he added. "There is no better type of competition for a newspaper to sponsor."

A total of 25 students from nine schools participated in the contest: Brandon Poole and Brooke Dunbar, Carbon Career and Technical Institute; Kayla Susko, Bronson Ford, and Erin Kelly, Jim Thorpe Area High School; Peter Petrack and Alden Everett, Lehighton Area High School; Tim Miller, Andrea Kelly, and Mike McHale, Marian Catholic High School; Damian Bower, H. Vaughn Reese, and Kyle Baumann, Northern Lehigh High School; Maison Allen, Morgan Balliet, and Kaitlyn Stevens, Palmerton Area High School; Stephen Hajcak, Judy Lin, and Jake Tokosh, Panther Valley High School; Suzanne Arner, Dakota Vadimsky, and Tyler Butkus, Tamaqua Area High School; Matthew Caccese, Lucas Rinke, and Jessica Adamczyk, Weatherly Area High School.

School advisers for the competition included Michael Baumgardt, Carbon Career and Technical Institute; Shelley Miller, Jim Thorpe Area High School; Michael Feifel, Lehighton Area High School; Bernard Forgotch, Marian Catholic High School; Scott DeLong, Northern Lehigh High School; Paul McArdle, Palmerton Area High School; Timothy Grazio and Frank Damian, Panther Valley High School; Stephen Ulicny, Tamaqua Area High School; and Katie Leach, Weatherly Area High School.

The moderator for the oral competition was Donovan from Lehigh Carbon Community College. Scorekeeper and announcer was Amy Miller of the Times News. Drusilla Laughman, Tamaqua Area High School (retired) served as timekeeper. Judges were Edward Lewis, district judge, Jim Thorpe; Roberta Brewster, district court administrator, and Jerry Knowles, state representative, 124th District. The appeals judge was Steven Bayer, district judge, Tamaqua.

Graders for the written exam were Mary Ruth Taylor, Tamaqua Area High School, retired; Joseph Riccette, Tamaqua Area High School, retired; and Jeff James, Jim Thorpe Area High School, retired.

The oral portion of the competition will air on Blue Ridge Cable on Friday, May 11 at 7 p.m., Saturday, May 12 at 1 p.m., and Sunday, May 13 at 3 p.m.