Spellbound - `Cornucopia" wins IMS spelling bee

By Mary L. Grady

Two finalists battled it out for 34 rounds before a winner emerged in what was a suspenseful finish to the Islander Middle School spelling bee held Tuesday, Feb. 8. Aaron Azose, 13, spelled the word ``cornucopia'' correctly, just beating out runner-up and alternate, Sten Olson, 11, for the crown. Azose, a seventh-grader, won the contest last year. Brett Nakagawa took third.

``I just tried not to get too excited during the last round,'' the champion said. ``I just tried to keep myself calm.''

Nearly 75 students turned out for a chance to qualify for the regional spelling bee to be held in Seattle next month. The IMS library was packed with other students, spectators and many parents, who were wondering to themselves if they could spell the words as well as the students.

IMS librarian and organizer, Denise Radow, was pleased with the turnout. Last year, she noted, there were just 20 spellers. This year, they put the word out a lot earlier, she said. Any student could participate if they had had a practice session ahead of time. Many teachers held practice spelling bees in their classrooms.

Despite the pent-up energy in the room, Radow took the time to read the lengthy and very specific list of rules for contestants.

To help focus in on the sounds and syllables of each word, students could ask three questions before attempting to spell a word: What part of speech did the word represent, what was the origin of the word, and have the word used in a sentence. Spellers could also ask the readers to pronounce the word again to ensure understanding. Speller Ben Poor took advantage of this extra help when he asked for clarification when confronted with the word, crayon. He spelled the word correctly.

Spellers could pause and start to spell a word over again, but once a letter is spoken, it cannot be taken back or changed. Spellers could use pen and paper to write out the word first on paper if they wished. One student took advantage of that help in the first round, when he paused to write out the word, clingy, before spelling it out loud.

Words like glitz, testify and singular tested students in the first round. In the first round, words with z, s or c in word endings seemed to trouble the spellers.

Other words, such as amassed and eventide came soon. As a testament to practice and the good spelling techniques, most students breezed through the first couple of rounds.

But it got harder. At the end of the school pronunciation book words left to be spelled included: miasma, scree, scutage and paraphernalia.

``The last round was a `real nail-biter,''' said Radow. It was down to just Azose and Olson. Different rules arise when it is just down to two, she said. If one speller misses a word, the next contestant has to spell both the missed word, then a new word.

The finalists were confronted with chrysanthemum, rhododendron and dirndl.

Even though spelling bees are an old fashioned vestige of the past, the way to study now is completely electronic. All kinds of lists and hints are available on-line along with audio help for pronunciation. There are even series of words prepared in order of the frequency they arise in spelling contests.

But spellers still do best by just making lists and spelling everything they see, Radow said. Arlene Azose said that when she and her son are in the car, she might ask him to spell a word they heard on NPR on the car radio.

``We'd just spell things at random times,'' Aaron Azose smiled.

Radow, a former spelling bee champion herself, notes that the best way to be a good speller is to become a good reader. And in a world where celebrity reigns, a spelling contest gives those so inclined a way to shine in a way they cannot otherwise.

``It is their chance to take the spotlight,'' she said.

The regional spelling competition and national qualifying bee will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday, March 20 at Town Hall in Seattle. Spellers from 90 schools in King and Snohomish counties are expected to spell it out for a chance for a trip to Washington, D.C., for the Scripps National Spelling Bee contest in June.

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