Spelling Bee Begins with a Twang, Ends with Phyllophagous

Middle school spelling teams competed in the Merced County Junior High Spelling Bee final held at the Merced County Office of Education offices in Merced. Photo: Steve Newvine

Middle school spelling teams competed in the Merced County Junior High Spelling Bee final held at the Merced County Office of Education offices in Merced. Photo: Steve Newvine

One by one, thirty-four junior high school students from all over Merced County wrote down the words as they were read out loud by the wordmaster.

“Twang,” she pronounced in front of the students who had gathered at the Merced County Office of Education (MCOE) conference room on December 6.

The wordmaster then used the word in a sentence, read the word in front of a microphone again, and instructed the students to go to work.

Unlike the spelling bees we see on television, the students did not have to spell the word out loud.

These students wrote the words in legible pencil. A proctor was assigned to each table of spellers.

When time was up, the proctor would raise his or her pencil signaling their assigned table had completed the task.

A proctor was assigned to each table of spellers at the Merced County Junior High Spelling Bee. Photo: Steve Newvine

A proctor was assigned to each table of spellers at the Merced County Junior High Spelling Bee. Photo: Steve Newvine

As time ticked away, students were eliminated.

“I see many of the same students win year after year and even some from the same families,” says Stacey Arancibia who organizes the Bee as part of her role as Events Planner for MCOE.

“Our third place winner has won before and her brother earned second place in the Elementary Bee held December fifth.”

Some might think spelling is no longer a necessary skill in this day and age of computer spell checks, but that is not the case here.

Spelling is a big thing in Merced County, and an even bigger thing in the state of California.

The state competition allows two students from each county to attend the California State Junior High Spelling Bee in May.

The first and second place winners will represent the County at the statewide event to be held in San Rafael.

Trophies and certificates were awarded to the top finishers at the Merced County Junior High Spelling Bee. Photo: Steve Newvine

Trophies and certificates were awarded to the top finishers at the Merced County Junior High Spelling Bee. Photo: Steve Newvine

While this Junior High competition started out with relatively easy words such as twang, things started getting tight as the words became more complex.

Within one hour, the large group was pared down to about a dozen top spellers. Anxious parents sat in the audience with pride that their children had done their best.

Soon, it was down to just a handful of students.

When Nicole Nguyen correctly spelled phyllophagous, the competition was over. Nicole is the top Junior High speller in Merced County.

Junior High Spelling Bee Wordmaster Audry Garza, a coordinator at MCOE, poses with third place winner Samika Judge, first place winner Nicole Nguyen and second place winner Luke Almeada. Photo: Nate Gnomes, Merced County Office of Education

Junior High Spelling Bee Wordmaster Audry Garza, a coordinator at MCOE, poses with third place winner Samika Judge, first place winner Nicole Nguyen and second place winner Luke Almeada. Photo: Nate Gnomes, Merced County Office of Education

This year’s winners in the Junior-High Bee were:

  • 1st Nicole Nguyen, Cruickshank
  • 2nd Luke Almeada, Cruickshank
  • 3rd Samika Judge, Los Banos Jr High

Each winner received a certificate and a trophy.

The Elementary competition was held the day before at Atwater Valley Community School. Ninety-four spellers took part in that bee.

Just like the Junior High contest, the top two finishers will compete statewide in May.

The statewide event will be held in Stockton.

The winners in the Elementary Bee were:

  • 1st Harneet Sandhu, Los Banos
  • 2nd Arvin Judge, Los Banos
  • 3rd Mariah Dhillon, Winton

The state program these winners will be competing in is not affiliated with the Scripps National Spelling Bee that most people are familiar with.

“Our numbers are increasing,”Stacey says. “Which is always a great thing.”

Merced County Elementary Spelling Bee winners Mariah Dhillon took third place, Arvin Judge took second place and Harneet Sandhu took the top spot. Photo: Nate Gnomes, Merced County Office of Education

Merced County Elementary Spelling Bee winners Mariah Dhillon took third place, Arvin Judge took second place and Harneet Sandhu took the top spot. Photo: Nate Gnomes, Merced County Office of Education

In case you’re wondering, phyllophagous as defined by my family’s American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language as an adjective meaning “feeding on leaves”.

I looked it up.

And for whatever it’s worth, my computer incorrectly flags this spelling with a red line meaning it is either not in the computer’s dictionary or it is misspelled.

It is not misspelled.

Don’t ask me, ask Nicole. Her correct spelling of that word makes her Merced County’s top Junior High speller.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.

He has written Stand By, Camera One available from Lulu.com