Zoe spells her way to a win
by Mark Ledbetter
TALLADEGA COUNTY — Sycamore Elementary School fourth-grader Zoe Swain won the 2013 Talladega County Spelling Bee Friday by correctly spelling “nonplus”.

Zoe said she was motivated by being eliminated in the first round during last year’s competition.

Talladega County Board of Education Instructional Services Administrator Dr. Donna King said students began enrolling in the competition last August and the 16 winners of each county and city schools’ spelling bee participated in Friday’s event.

King said five students returned from last year’s competition.

As each contestant registered, they were given a number that randomly assigned the order in which they would compete.

Judges for the competition were Bobby Hall, Sylacauga City School System; Dr. Dolia Patterson, Talladega City School System; and Griff Hill, Talladega County School System.

The pronouncer, Dr. Claire Keel, said she has served in the position for at least eight years. She is a psychometrist for the Talladega County School System and provides testing and evaluation for special needs students.

“I get a little nervous realizing the great responsibility,” Keel said. “I want to do the best I can for the children and I have to prepare to give them a chance.”

She said she prepares by reviewing every word in the manual, making sure she can read them and review the definitions and explanatory sentences.

Keel gives the students their word to spell. The student is allowed to ask the pronouncer to define the word, read a sentence with the word, and/or ask for the word’s country of origin.

Once the student is given the word, he or she is allowed to pause and start over, but they are not allowed to correct any letter they have already spoken.

Each student stood before the judges, often repeated the word given to them, and then spelled it. Some of the boys stood with their hands in their pockets and gazed at the ceiling. One girl swayed as she spelled. While not all who misspelled a word and was eliminated showed any emotion, one or two were visibly upset.

After a practice round, the group entered round one, which saw four eliminations. Rounds two and four saw no eliminations, while there were two in round three. Round five saw five eliminations. It was round six that left Zoe and Winterboro School sixth-grader Cheyenne Ross standing.

In round seven, Cheyenne misspelled the word “defamation” and had to take her seat, as Zoe spelled “fidgety” correctly. According to Spelling Bee rules, however, the competition was not over until Zoe was given another word. If she had misspelled that word, Cheyenne would have been allowed back in the competition.

Zoe won the competition by spelling “nonplus.”

After the competition, runner-up Cheyenne’s sponsor and Winterboro teacher Jessica Mathis said she was proud of her achievement.

Cheyenne said she spent 2 to 3 hours each day preparing. Mathis said Cheyenne is a creative writer and the competition will help her.

As runner-up, Cheyenne will represent the area should Zoe not be able to compete.

Zoe will compete in the Alabama Spelling Bee competition March 9 at Oak Mountain High School. Should she win the state competition, she will receive an all expenses paid trip to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. The Alabama Spelling Bee is sponsored by Adventure Travel, with Susan McDougal serving as coordinator.

Scripps has been sponsoring spelling bees since 1925. The winning word at that event was “gladiolus.”

Zoe’s sponsor was unable to attend the event but stand-in sponsor was Sycamore’s library media specialist Mandy Thornton.

“We knew she would do well,” Thornton said.

Zoe’s grandmother, Paula Coleman, said her granddaughter is “amazing, awesome.”

Zoe said when the competition started she was thinking, “Man this is it.” She remembered being eliminated in the first round last year and that provided her with all the motivation she needed.

Looking toward state competition, the fourth-grader said, “I’m not going to stress over it.”

The county’s Spelling Bee is held each year on the first Friday of February. King said students in kindergarten through eighth grades are eligible to compete.

© 2013