Breakfast of Champions

He scaled an intellectual Everest at age twelve. What's he like at sixteen? Meet George Thampy.

Not surprisingly, Thampy, who's taking five advanced-placement classes, thrives in Westminster's demanding academic arena.

"Mom did a wonderful job," in the estimation of ancient-history teacher Thom Johnston, who also coaches Thampy on the school's chess team. "These [Thampy] kids have an intellectual curiosity that is phenomenal. At the same time, they already have a lot of content. For instance, George loves the Punic Wars. One day a student asked where Carthage would be today. I didn't know, so I asked George. He said Tunisia, and he was right."

Says upper-school principal James Drexler: "He was one of the ones who's gotten it out there that homeschoolers aren't just wacky. At school, he's like a hero."

On the second day of school, huddled at a cafeteria table with Laila Thampy and a group of friends, Drexler's hero is asked what his views are on the theories of evolution and the Big Bang -- scientifically grounded notions that carried the day back in Lawrence.

"I was surprised at the amount of professors in Lawrence who passed off science as accepted belief," Thampy replies. "Textbooks are something somebody believes. Everybody has faith in something, whether you're a scientist, a priest or a construction worker. There are multiple possibilities."

Another student might leave it at that and get back to his peanut butter and jelly. But not this Eldorado winner, who wants to continue the conversation in the hallway, beyond the distractions of the lunchroom. "Too many scientists elevate science to religion," Thampy contends. "That's the fallacy. Science is a method. If you want the most accurate account of the universe's origin, read Genesis I. But that's just my belief. A lot of people believe God guided evolution. And I respect their beliefs."

Just then a blonde walks by.

"Hi, George," she says, unprovoked.

Thampy answers with a wave and a smile. Not the flirtatious smile of a stone mack, but one of polite warmth. For the six-foot teenager leaning against the corridor wall, there's still the mysteries of the universe to tend to. And in that milieu, George Thampy is the most popular kid in school.

Correction published 9/17/03:
In the original version of this story, we gave spelling bee champ Ned Andrews and his mother, Carolyn, the wrong last name. The above version reflects the corrected text.

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