Experience and knowledge triumphed during the 16th annual Pennsylvania Citizen Bee at the Jim Thorpe Courthouse Thursday evening. All but one of the top four winners to the event were high school seniors returning to the contest from a previous year.

First place winner Zach Warner, a senior at Lehighton Area High School, was returning for his second year in the program. Jim Thorpe senior Oliver Schulz placed second in the contest. Schulz placed third in last year's Citizen Bee.

Third place winner was newcomer Jason Gates, a junior from Panther Valley. Jim Thorpe senior Christian Ferko received fourth place.

"It's a wonderful opportunity for these students to share their knowledge of the events" that have shaped our nation and state, said the event's moderator, Maureen Donovan of Lehigh Carbon Community College. She thanked the students' advisers and parents for supporting their studies.

"For those of you who are not yet seniors, we hope to see you back here next year," she added. "It's a very fun evening and we're very proud of all of you."

As first place winner, Warner received a check for $300. Schulz was awarded $200 for second place. Gates and Ferko both received $100 for third and fourth place.

While many of this year's participants had attended in a previous year, three students – Shane Moran of Weatherly and Ferko and Schulz of Jim Thorpe – were recognized for taking part in the program for all four of their high school years.

The four winners prepared for the program by reviewing a tape of last year's contest and studying potential topics with their academic advisers. Many of the seniors had an additional edge – the questions this year covered topics, including economics, that aren't addressed in the classroom until later in high school.

The Pennsylvania Citizen Bee is sponsored by the TIMES NEWS and coordinated by George Taylor, the editor of the Bethlehem Press, a weekly newspaper published by the TIMES NEWS' East Penn Press.

During the contest, students take part in two contest parts. They begin with a 30-minute written exam, and then enter the courtroom to complete the oral portion of the competition in front of family and friends. The oral questions cover topics addressed in the news and in classrooms, including current events, U.S. and local history, geography, and Pennsylvania studies.

The Pennsylvania Citizen Bee was once part of a national and state competition.

While these contests no longer exist, Taylor and TIMES NEWS publisher Fred Masenheimer have continued the local program for school districts within the paper's readership area. The program is co-sponsored by LCCC and Rep. Keith McCall and patrons Charles and Carol Getz and Sen. David Argall.

Taylor was pleased with the response from this year's students, who took the contest's tough new questions in stride. Many of the questions were new for this year's event to better challenge students who have attended the Citizen Bee in previous years.

He added that the match between Citizen Bees and newspapers is a natural one, and that the program is a great outlet for students to showcase their knowledge.

"Newspapers depend on informed readers. It's a natural match for newspapers to sponsor these events," he said. "There are so many opportunities to show off athletic skills. This is a great opportunity for kids to show off their academic skills."

A total of 24 students from nine schools participated in the contest: Michelle Gonzalez, Xavier Vargas, and alternate Nick Davis, Carbon Career and Technical Institute; Christian Ferko and Oliver Shulz, Jim Thorpe Area High School; Kara Beck, Zach Werner, Peter Petrack, and alternate Jon Rabenold, Lehighton Area High School; Justin Huegel, Connor Schleicher, Tim Miller, and alternate Andrew Kelly, Marian Catholic High School; Jonathan Haab, Damion Bower, H. Vaughn Reese, and alternate Kyle Baumann, Northern Lehigh High School; Pat McCormick, Black Campbell, and alternate Brent Green, Palmerton Area High School; Jacob Dulaney, Jason Gates, and John Owens, Panther Valley High School; Geoff Sincavage, Jackie Stewart, and Schuyler Schmidt, Tamaqua Area High School; Shane Moran, Andrew Vack, Matthew Caccese, and alternate Susan Funk, Weatherly Area High School.

School advisers for the competition included Michael Baumgardt, Carbon Career and Technical Institute; Ron Ellison, 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 announcer and scorekeeper was Amy Zubek, TIMES NEWS reporter. Jerry Knowles, state representative, 124th District, served as the timekeeper. Judges were Edward Lewis, Jim Thorpe District Judge; Roberta Brewster, District Court Administrator; and William O'Gurek, Carbon County Commissioner. The appeals judge was Steve Bayer, Tamaqua District Judge.

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

The oral portion of the competition will air on Blue Ridge Cable TV13 on May 6 and 7 at 8 p.m. and May 9 at 2 p.m.