Students tackle tricky words in Houston’s spelling bee

Students tackle tricky words in Houston’s spelling bee

jmink@macon.comJanuary 31, 2014 

  • Woody Marshall/The Telegraph
    Spell the winning word in the Houston County Spelling Bee with Rebecca Kenny

PERRY -- It came down to two words: pitchblende and alcohol.

The remaining two competitors in the Houston County spelling bee on Friday, Rebecca Kenny and Keerti Soundappan, stood next to each other, each waiting for her turn at the microphone.

Twelve-year-old Keerti took a breath, looking upward and adjusting the microphone before spelling obscure words. Ten-year-old Rebecca often mimicked writing the words on her hand with her finger, and she wiped her forehead after correctly spelling “cacao.”

They were the final two spellers in the bee, which pitted 28 fourth- through eighth-graders against one another for spots in the regional spelling bee in March. The winner and the runner-up move on to the spelling bee at Fort Valley State University.

“They are a nervous wreck; it’s a very big deal,” said Amy Myers, an Eagle Springs Elementary speech and language pathologist who called out the words. “It was more difficult this year, I thought, for sure.”

Students sat on stage at the Eric P. Staples building in Perry, waiting their turn. One by one, students left the stage as they tackled unfamiliar words. Others breathed sighs of relief and returned to their seats after nailing large words that would vex many adults.

There were “earthenware” and “waywiser” in the first round. “Belladonna” and “igneous” were called in the second round, and students spelled “isobar,” “lariat” and “feldspar” in the later rounds.

Besides the knotty words, students faced the anxiety of spelling in front of a crowd. The auditorium was packed with friends, family members and teachers, who squinted and held their breath as students spelled.

“I was so impressed with her,” said Tambra Singletary, Keerti’s language arts teacher at Mossy Creek Middle School. “I was trying to spell the words at my seat, and she got more than I did.”

Rebecca’s mother, Laura Kenny, has spent the past couple of weeks helping her daughter study.

“My heart was beating fast,” Kenny said. “I knew she knew them.”

Rebecca and Keerti were on the stage by themselves for several words. They spelled one difficult word after another, dazzling the audience with their performances. Then came perhaps the trickiest word of the competition: pitchblende.

It was the silent “e” that trumped Keerti. But Rebecca had studied the word, and she remembered it. After spelling it correctly, Rebecca had to spell another word to win the competition. She hardly hesitated when given the word “alcohol.”

Keerti left the stage as runner-up, and Rebecca was the winner. Both will advance to the regional competition.

“I’m already nervous,” said Keerti, who enjoys reading and wants to be a doctor when she grows up. During the past few snow days, “my mom was quizzing me the whole day, every day.”

Similarly, Rebecca has spent a lot of time studying, especially the difficult words. So, she was surprised, she said, when her winning word was a rather simple one: alcohol.

“I’ve been studying for two weeks,” said Rebecca, who likes to play soccer and wants to be a pilot when she grows up. “I studied a lot during the snow days.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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