12-year-old gets to study what he loves: Exploring natural wildlife

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 3, 2007

FRANKLIN—A J.P. King Middle School student will be braving the wilds of Africa in August.

William R. Miles, 12, the son of Tracey and Lennie Miles, was the only youth chosen from Virginia to participate in the second annual National Geographic Kids Expedition team slated to go to South Africa Aug. 6-15.

Fifteen winners were selected from 4,000 entries nationwide in the National Geographic Kids magazine “Hands-On Explorer Challenge.”

Entries required a photo showing that the youth was a hands-on explorer and an essay describing how the youth explored the place, what was found and what they would like to explore in Africa.

“I‘ve been collecting fossils since I was 7,” said Miles. “My dad got me into it. He started a lot of my hobbies.”

Trips with his dad to Chippokes State Park revealed that there was much more to be discovered on the beach than just seashells.

“I found some shark’s teeth,” he said. “I was so happy. When I find them, it’s like finding my own buried treasure.”

William and his dad try to go every couple of weeks to search for fossils.

“You have to know what you’re looking for,” William said.

He wrote in his essay to the magazine, “I would love to explore the natural wildlife preserves because I think it will be so much better to see the animals of South Africa in their natural habitat rather than in a zoo.

“I know it will be exciting to learn about sea life and go on an actual safari. Because exploring is my passion, it would be a chance of a lifetime for me to join the National Geographic Kids Expedition team to South Africa.”

The whole idea to enter the contest came from sheer boredom. William and his best friend of Smithfield, Lauren Ross, were perusing the magazine when they saw how to get an entry form.

“She ended up not entering,” he said. “I wrote my essay, my cousin edited and I sent it in.”

William entered in late fall and had just about forgotten about his entry until his mother was contacted in January and told that he had been selected as one of 25 semifinalists. Phone interviews were conducted with the semifinalists, and by that evening, William found out he had made it as one of the 15 finalists who would be going to South Africa.

“At first, I was in shock,” he said. “It was a lot to take in. The first thing I did was call Lauren. She was happy for me.”

William will be accompanied by his father on the trip, flying from Norfolk and joining the other winners in New York before heading into Johannesburg.

According to Ethan Fried of the National Geographic Society’s communications department, team members will then go out on a 10-day safari to Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve and Grootbos Nature Reserve where they will “explore some of the most amazing wildlife and ocean wonders in the world.”

National Geographic personality and the host of “Wild Chronicles” Boyd Matson will be joining the group, as well as Kids Editor-in-Chief Melina Bellows, NG photographer Annie Griffiths Belt, behavioral ecologist Mike Heithaus, other local experts and a parent or guardian of each youth.

At Sabi Sabi, the explorers will study 300 bird species and 200 animal species, including elephants, rhinoceros, leopards, lions and Cape buffalo. Relationships among insects, birds, mammals and flowering plants will be the highlight of Grootbos, which according to Fried, is the home of the great white shark.

The team members will also receive a digital camera as part of their prize and tips on getting the best photos of their findings.

William said that during their visit it will be Africa’s winter, with 75- to 80-degree days and cool nights.

“I’m looking forward to going in the water and exploring ocean life,” he said. “I love to swim. I went scuba diving on a recent trip to the Grand Cayman Islands.

“It was so much fun.”

He said that he comes by his curiosity honestly, as his dad always wanted to know the “whys” of everything.

“I’ve been exposed early on,” he said.

William is a member of the Puppy Pound of the Disaster Watchdogs, a Community Problem-Solving group at his school, which recently won grand champion in an international competition.

He is also a member of the Future Problem Solvers at the school.

He is on the swim team at Luter Family YMCA in Smithfield, plays tennis there and is a brown belt in Shotokan karate.

He plays bass clarinet in the Cadet Band at school and has been playing piano since he was 7.

He is a member of People to People Ambassador, an organization that promotes peace among countries by learning other cultures through academic and athletic events. William will be swimming in a competition in Vienna, Austria, the last week in June.

He is also a member of Alpha and Omega Baptist Fellowship of Portsmouth. William loves to draw things related to nature, and is a member of the Rawls Museum Arts Education Outreach program.

He has participated and won awards in the annual Parent-Teacher Association’s Reflections contest as well.

Yet another highlight of William’s summer will be receiving his certification for scuba diving.

William encourages other to enter contests.

“You can’t win if you don’t try,” he said.