Local students compete in 58th annual Regional Spelling Bee
OTTAWA — Knowing how to properly spell is a crucial part of a successful life. And while everyone has those certain confounding words that they struggle to spell correctly, it’s rarely done on a brightly lit stage in front of a crowd and cameras.
Students from throughout the region gathered at Ottawa Township High School on Feb. 17 to compete in the 58th annual LaSalle, Marshall and Putnam Counties Regional Spelling Bee.
Before the competition began, Regional Superintendent of Schools Chris Dvorak gave all the students his words of advice.
“You should all be proud of the work you’ve done to get here. Just being here means you’re among the best spellers in the region. Take a breath, take your time, stay calm, and remember, this is fun,” he said.
Representing the Tonica-Lostant area were Tonica Grade School eighth-grader Erin Gray and Lostant Grade School sixth-grader McKinzie Archer.
“She’s a great student, and this is the second year she’s represented Tonica Grade School in the spelling bee as the winner of our local bee,” Tonica Principal Chuck Schneider said of Gray.
Gray made it to the fifth of 16 rounds of increasingly difficult words. She correctly spelled “quiver,” “necessary,” “magnolia” and “isobar” before making an error with the spelling of “tomatillo.”
Archer was given one of the first round’s more difficult words and unfortunately she stumbled in the spelling of “stethoscope.”
“McKinzie is a wonderful speller, and it didn’t surprise me when she won our spelling bee because she’s the leader of her reading group. We’re very proud and supportive of her,” Lostant Superintendent Sandra Malahy said.
Six students were eliminated in the first round, 10 misspelled their words in the second, two fell in the third, eight left in the fourth, and another four were dropped in the fifth round.
The final three students were Waltham Elementary’s Riker Fesperman, Sheperd Middle School’s Leo Volker, and Parkside Middle School’s Shea Rathburn. These three showed they were the most competitive spellers as they all successfully made it through six more rounds.
Volker misspelled “gazpacho” in the 13th round, but at one point in the bee, he used his sense of humor to defuse some of the competition’s tension.
When given the word “imperative,” Volker asked, “Like, it’s imperative I spell this word correctly?” His quip resulted in laughs both on-stage and off.
Fesperman was eliminated after the word “streusel,” and Rathburn won after properly spelling both “paprika” and “mahatma.”
“We had a wonderful contest, and this was the longest championship round we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Dvorak said.
Rathburn received a first place plaque; $200 cash provided by the William Ieuter Trust; a $50 gift certificate to Prairie Fox Books; and the Stretch Miller Memorial Spelling Bee Traveling Plaque, which will be displayed at Rathburn’s school for one year.
Fesperman received a second place plaque; $100 cash from the Ieuter Trust; and a $50 Prairie Fox Books gift certificate.
The announcer was Rick Koshko, and the judges were Diane Chapman, Lloyd Chapman, Mary Margaret Nelson and Ronnie Uebel.
The bee was partially sponsored by the Ottawa Kiwanis Club to which the Chapmans belong.
“Events like this are why I’m a part of Kiwanis,” Lloyd Chapman said.
Rathburn will next compete in the Grand Finals Spelling Bee in Peoria, which will be held at WEEK-TV Studios at 1 p.m. on March 23.