LUTZ — Over the summer, 14-year-old Katherine Forster could be found riding her bicycle around her neighborhood with one hand on the handlebars and the other grasping a worksheet.
And what she was studying on that paper helped her earn $50,000 for college.
Katherine was the junior division champion in the fifth annual National Bible Bee in November. It's an honor she was hoping for but didn't expect.
"Winning is something you dream about, something everyone dreams about," she said.
The National Bible Bee encourages kids ages 7 to 18 to study the word of God and memorize Scripture. It's organized by the Shelby Kennedy Foundation, an Ohio-based nonprofit group that was established in memory of its namesake after she died of cancer in 2005 at the age of 23.
Bee participants are required to memorize Scriptures word for word and study selected books of the Bible. Katherine memorized 766 Bible verses from June to November. The book of 1 John was the focus of the competition this year, so Katherine memorized the entire book, in addition to the more than 400 required verses.
"I made a schedule and tried to follow that," explained Katherine, who is homeschooled. "I tried to do about 10 verses a day. I could memorize them sort of roughly, but I had to go back and refine them."
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The goal of the bee is to bring families together as they study the meaning of the Bible and get kids excited about Scripture. And according to local bee host Amy Pacheco, it works. Participants look forward to receiving their study materials and learning which book the competition will center on every June.
"On June 1, they're waiting for that box," Pacheco said. "It's like Christmas."
Pacheco hosts the local Bible Bee at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Brandon for about 100 kids in the Tampa area. They use music, games, crafts and other techniques to memorize verses for the bee.
In August, local bees are held around the nation. Participants are divided into three age groups — primary, junior and senior — and the top 120 from each age division then compete at nationals.
Katherine has been participating since 2009. This was her third trip to the national competition and her first win.
This time around, things seemed to work out in her favor. She was already independently memorizing 1 John, so she had a leg up. She surpassed her goal of making it to the semifinals and headed for the finals in Tennessee with four other competitors from Tampa Bay: Thomas Walter, Rutledge Dixon, Ellie Borah and Kevin Cravens.
"She's very organized and disciplined," said Katherine's mother, Sue Forster. "If there's a project to do, she's good at breaking it down into steps and finishing it."
Was she nervous during the final competition?
"I don't get nervous," Katherine said. "I just get excited."
"Her mother was nervous enough for her," Sue said. "I was a nervous wreck."
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Sue Forster watched the competition from the audience with sons Samuel, 12, and Benjamin, 9. As each contestant recited verses, the family checked their accuracy on a smartphone.
Katherine was in the lead going into the last round, and she knew she would be asked to recite one of two passages — one she was confident about, and the other she wasn't.
"I looked at her, and I thought, 'She's going to get the passage she knows,' " Mom said. "I just had a feeling."
She was right. Katherine recited her final passage perfectly and won the competition.
"You can call it luck, or you can call it the providence of God, which I would say it is," Katherine said.
Katherine chose to have her $50,000 prize put into a scholarship fund that she'll use when she goes to college. The ninth-grader is already thinking about studying marine biology or writing, or doing mission work.
"Or it could be something totally different," she said. "Whatever God plans for me."
She said she's looking forward to the next Bible Bee, when she'll compete in the senior age division, which comes with a $100,000 prize.
"The Bible Bee is really cool," she said. "We want more people to try it out."