Nuri Ozer, left, is congratulated by fellow top ten contestant Zayan Khanmohammed, after he claimed the 2014 National History Bee Los Angeles regional championship with four right answers at Harbor Day school on Monday. (Don Leach, Daily Pilot / March 4, 2014)

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Before Evan Park, 14, could give an interview, his father needed to speak with him.

Time was tight and Ed Park wanted to get in a quick pep talk, so he ushered his son toward a darkened classroom.

The first of three qualifying rounds for the National History Bee's Los Angeles regional championship had just ended, and only a few minutes remained before the next round would begin.

Evan, a Harbor Day student, had reviewed the study guide to prepare, working on it ever since he qualified for the bee five weeks ago, and had studied with his dad, a history buff.

While Evan's peers had participated in geography bees before, this year marked the first time that students from the Newport Beach private school were in the running in the history bee, which is only in its fourth year.

The eighth-grader was one of the four highest scorers on a 16-question written test taken by the fifth-graders and middle schoolers at Harbor Day, which hosted the regional championship Monday night.

After taking the written test, Evan and the other three students each passed an online test, said Jon Grogan, a Harbor Day history teacher who served as the point person for the bee.

Grogan had opened his room to the academic quartet for studying in their free time and was thrilled with their enthusiasm for the competition.

"This event can springboard history," he said. "I'm so proud of them."

*

Playing By New Rules

The regional championship rounds involved neither pen nor paper. Instead, the young historians — 42 in all — faced a fast-paced competition during which they answered by first hitting a buzzer.

They hailed from a vast swath of California, representing schools like Desert Ridge Academy in Indio, Linfield Christian School in Temecula, and New West Charter School in Los Angeles.

Others traveled from San Diego, while still more came from Hesperia — representing 37 regions in all. Participation in the bee has grown 25% from last year.

The participants broke down into five groups of eight or nine for each preliminary competition round.

Clad in button-down shirts, sweat shirts and school uniforms, they sat at desks arranged in a semicircle, facing an official competition proctor.

Before them were small buttons that they were instructed to press if they knew the answer to the questions that would be read to them.

"It was surprising at first," Evan remarked about how quickly the students buzzed in.

But his father had felt confident that his son knew the answers.

"I'm going to try to telepathically give him some clues now," Ed said, laughing.