Eighth grader Bonny Jain is the topper, last year he come fourth; second and third winners are also Indian-Americans

WASHINGTON: A 12-year-old Indian-American has been crowned the "2006 National Geographic Champion Bee" here, while the second and third places have also been secured by Indian-American students.

Bonny Jain, winner of Wednesday's event, is an eighth grader from Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Moline, Illinois. He won a $25,000 college scholarship and lifetime membership of the National Geographic Society.

Neeraj Sirdeshmukh, a 14-year-old eighth-grader from Nashua, New Hampshire, came second. He received a $15,000 scholarship.

The third place and a $10,000 scholarship went to Yeshwanth Kandimalla, a 13-year-old eighth-grader from Marietta, Georgia.

It was Bonny's second appearance at the National Bee. Last year, he represented Illinois but came fourth. "It feels pretty cool to have gotten up to the top of the nation," he told reporters after his win. Popular quiz show host Alex Trebek was the moderator at the championship.

Bonny said he felt quite confident, but became nervous in the final round after he missed a question about the Andaman islands, his only wrong answer.

Bonny, who plays the violin for his school orchestra, is the son of Indian immigrants, Rohit Jain and Beena Jain. He has a five-year-old sister, Riya Jain. All of them were present, along with his teacher, to witness the event.

He plans to celebrate his victory by throwing a huge party for friends and relatives but he also needs to prepare for his third appearance in the National Spelling Bee, which starts on May 31. Bonny also enjoys tennis, swimming and reading. The best place he has visited, he says, is Jaipur in Rajasthan.

Neeraj enjoys playing chess, cricket, badminton and travelling. He dreams to become the U.N. Secretary-General. At the moment, he would like to pursue a career as an anthropologist, an ambassador or a cartographer.

Yeshwanth, who represented Georgia last year, plays the piano, listens to music and enjoys swimming, reading and playing games. He hopes to become a banker.

With so many Indian-American students as contestants, it is no wonder that a survey of this year's state and territory Bee winners showed that they admired Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, besides their parents, grandparents and teachers.

While the majority of the children said they were perfectly content being themselves, Bill Gates topped the list of other people they might choose to be. The 2006 National Geographic Bee was sponsored by JPMorgan Chase. Fifty-five state and territory winners took part in the preliminary rounds on May 23. The top 10 contestants met in Wednesday's final round. UNI