Last year’s runner-up wins state spelling bee

In an age of abbreviated text-message lingo, some educators have expressed concerns about the future accuracy of the English language. But on Saturday, March 6, a group of 59 middle school students from across the state proved that though they may be adept texters, they can still spell correctly.

At the 2010 state spelling bee held at Oak Mountain High School, the spellers battled with their brains in front of an audience of parents, supporters, and a panel of judges who paid attention to literally every syllable that came out of their mouths. Out of nearly 800 schools across Alabama, only 59 students made it to the state level competition by winning their school and county bees.

The bee kicked off at noon with a practice round that allowed every speller the chance to get comfortable speaking into the microphone and to shake off some of the nerves. The bee’s pronouncer, Dr. Janet Keys, led the students in a few calming deep breaths before starting the first official round with the word “quiche.”

For the next four hours, students spelled words from a variety of language origins, such as Japanese (kabuki), Hindi (raj), Afrikaans (roodebok), Tagalog (pansit), Arabic (alcazar) and a combination of Greek and Latin (realschule).

Contestants took several different approaches when spelling out their words. Some spelled their words immediately upon hearing them while others asked for every bit of information they were allowed to know about the word, from alternate pronunciations to its definition. One boy closed his eyes and spelled his words out slowly; another girl traced her words out in her hand before saying the letters aloud. Though all of the contestants had their own ways of spelling, all but one had something in common: the hunched shoulders and disappointed faces that came with the ding of the bell that signaled it was time to exit the stage.

Only 13 spellers were knocked out in the first round, but by the end of the fourth round only seven remained. Tensions on and off-stage increased in the seventh round as the last three spellers each misspelled their words, which according to the end of bee rules allowed them all to continue on to the eighth round for another chance.

Allison Black, an eighth grader from Ider Middle School in Dekalb County, won the bee in the tenth round. To make it to the top, she correctly spelled the words “sequin, fuselage, lithoid, calumny, liturgical, and dialysis,” missed the word “dromomania” in the seventh round, redeemed herself with “pharaoh and celestialize,” and finally sealed her victory with “disparage.”

Last year Black placed second at the state spelling bee, but this year the talented speller and avid reader brought home the first place prizes. Those included a glass trophy, $100 savings bond, $100 Barnes and Noble gift card, and an all-expense paid trip for two to the national spelling bee in Washington, D.C. The Barnes and Noble gift card was her favorite prize, she said.

“I didn’t come thinking I would win,” she admitted with a smile. “I just wanted to see how well I could do.”

The spelling bee’s sponsor, Adventure Travels, will pay for Black and one other person to attend the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. the week of May 31-June 6. If Black makes it through the preliminary round of the bee, she will be the first speller to appear on the televised final rounds on June 4 since she represents Alabama, the first state in alphabetical order.

Patrick Haung from Calhoun County finished as first runner-up and Sophie Williams from Montgomery placed as second runner-up.