County’s top spellers face off in finals for junior high students

Here is winner Delilah De La Cerda, 13, an eighth grader at Rancho San Justo.

The nervousness was palpable. Jittery seventh and eighth graders waited their turns to go up to the microphone in the annual San Benito County Junior High Spelling Bee Competition on March 2 at Ladd Lane Elementary School. When it was all done, Delilah De La Cerda came out on top.
“This is a pleasant surprise because I was not expecting this,” said De La Cerda, an eighth grader at Rancho San Justo Middle School. “I was shooting for third (place) or better, but I didn’t think I would win. I’m happy because I get to go to state.”
De La Cerda and runner-up Eduardo Padilla, a seventh grader at Spring Grove Elementary School, advance to the California State Junior High Spelling Bee Competition on May 14 at Miller Creek Middle School in San Rafael. Chase Freeman of Southside School and Andrew Tobias of Tres Pinos Elementary School finished in third and fourth place, respectively.
On March 3, Jacques Morin, a sixth grader at Sacred Heart, won the elementary school competition for the second straight year. Carmela Clark of Spring Grove finished as the runner-up. For De La Cerda, winning the competition was simply a bonus.
De La Cerda’s real passion is singing. Although De La Cerda hasn’t performed in a competition yet, she’s participated in talent shows.
“Spelling isn’t the top thing I’m shooting for as I grow up,” she said. “I’m going more for the performing arts, to be a professional singer.”
Once the field had been narrowed to De La Cerda and Padilla, the stage was set for sheer dramatics. Both students spelled their first two words correctly before they both misspelled three consecutive words. When Padilla misspelled the word opportunity, De La Cerda had to get that word correct and the next word, irritable, to win the competition.
Contestants were allowed to write the words on a sheet of paper before spelling them out.
“I knew I could spell opportunity, but I wanted to double check on irritable since it was the last one,” De La Cerda said. “I was afraid I was going to stumble on it.”
For De La Cerda, the third time was indeed the charm. This was De La Cerda’s third consecutive year of entering the San Benito County Spelling Bee, and it proved to be sweet redemption. A year ago, De La Cerda was knocked out after incorrectly spelling her second word. When De La Cerda was a sixth grader two years ago, she finished in third place in the elementary school competition.
After last year’s exit, De La Cerda didn’t’ really approach this year’s competition any differently. De La Cerda credited her brother, Isaiah, for helping her prep for the competition.
“My brother reads fast,” she said. “Whenever I got a word wrong, I would keep on spelling them until I got it right. Then we moved on.”
Besides singing, De La Cerda is also physically active. She took up wrestling for the first time this year, and recently read about San Benito High sophomore Kira Emma advancing to the state wrestling championships. Even though De La Cerda’s ultimate goal is to be professional singer, she’ll forever remember this year’s Spelling Bee.
“Spelling is not something I think I’m really good at,” she said. “I’m still soaking this one in.”

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