Five teenagers stood on stage last month in Sevierville, Tenn., competing for the fifth annual National Bible Bee senior division grand prize.
Scores were determined by a mix of scripture recitation—some passages up to 22 verses long—and Bible knowledge questions. This year, the grand prize winner was determined by a tie breaker based on contestants’ preliminary round scores.
In the end, 17-year-old Ryan Sinni won, earning the $100,000 grand prize. He is first male to earn the title since 2009.
As a homeschooler, Sinni was able to do many of his school courses during the summer. During the fall, he devoted up to eight hours a day preparing for nationals.
“One of the things the Bible Bee has done for me is set my priorities straight,” Sinni says. “It helps me realize that it's not about winning $100,000. It's not about getting the approval of men. It's about learning God's Word, hiding it in your heart, so that it will change your life.”
But he’s certainly not complaining about the $100,000 prize. He plans to use it for college, where he hopes to study history, English or political science before moving into law school or seminary.
He says the Bible Bee has prepared him for the future. “It's shown me how to study God's Word, how to learn it for myself,” he said.
Ryan was one of the country’s 120 top contestants in his age division to compete in the National Bible Bee.
Finals consisted of two parts, the first of which was Scripture recitation. The students memorized more than 500 verses spanning the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in preparation for nationals. They had no idea which passages they would be asked to recite.
In past years, the final challenge round consisted of Scripture memorization only. One missed word could result in elimination.
This year, officials decided to balance Scripture recitation with Bible knowledge.
“It’s an ability to take what you’ve learned and to apply it,” says Tammy McMahan, vice president of curriculum and events for the bee, “and that it’s way more than just memorizing it.”
McMahan and her husband, Mark, head up the Bible Bee. She authors the Sword Study participants complete throughout the summer.
The summer program differs from nationals (for one, the commitment is 20 minutes a day) in that it’s really about family discipleship and teaching students how to study the Bible for themselves.
Another of the Bible Bee finalists was 9-year-old Adam Willard. He quickly won the hearts of the audience with his southern accent and the preacher-like enthusiasm of his recitations. He came in second place in the primaries, the youngest of the three age divisions, winning $10,000.
His family found creative ways to remember the passages, putting many of them to music and practicing them with funny voices or accents.
A common theme throughout the competition is that there are no losers. When it comes to the Bible—and storing it in your heart and head—everyone is a winner.
Listen to a report on the 2013 National Bible Bee on The World and Everything in It:
Primary division (ages 7-10):
1. Jessica Manley - Salinas, Calif. ($25,000)
2. Adam Willard - Pace, Fla. ($10,000)
3. Andre Lehman - Odon, Ind. ($5,000)
4. Jarrett Chew - La Palma, Calif. ($3,000)
5. Abigail Brown - Battle Creek, Mich. ($1,000)
Junior division (ages 11-14):
1. Katherine Forster - Lutz, Fla. ($50,000)
2. Katrina Baergen - Leslie, Mich. ($20,000)
3. Everett Chew - La Palma, Calif. ($10,000)
4. Olivia Davis - Salem, Ore. ($3,000)
5. Andrew Adams - Clive, Iowa ($1,000)
Senior division (ages 15-18):
1. Ryan Sinni - Germantown, Md. ($100,000)
2. Lucy Alessio - Oakland, Mich. ($25,000)
3. Bethany Xiques - Miami Springs, Fla. ($15,000)
4. Rionna Flynn - Cupertino, Calif. ($1,000, plus $2,500 for elocution award)
5. Anna Floyd - Bath, Pa. ($1,000)