Tension is heating up for the title of San Benito County
Spelling Bee Champion.
Tension is heating up for the title of San Benito County Spelling Bee Champion.

Twenty-five finalists have been chosen from each of the annual competition’s two categories – elementary (fourth, fifth and sixth graders) and junior high (seventh and eighth graders) – and the students are studying for a shot at the big time – the State Spelling Bee Championships.

The county championships will be Tuesday for the elementary division and Wednesday for the junior high division, both starting at 6:45 p.m. in the Gabilan Hills School multi-purpose room. The event is open to the public.

The top two spellers from each grade level category will represent the county at the California State Spelling Bee Championships. The State Elementary Spelling Bee Championship is Saturday, May 5 at Sonoma State University. The State Junior High Spelling Bee Championship will be held Saturday, May 17 at Miller Creek School in San Rafael.

The county held preliminary rounds Feb. 25 and 26 to narrow down the field. More than 100 students showed up for the elementary division, said Kim O’Connor, event organizer and educational consultant for the San Benito County Office of Education.

“The gym was full. The bleachers were full of parents. It was packed,” O’Connor said.

About 60 students participated in the junior high division’s preliminary round. Both divisions were narrowed down to 25 finalists. The preliminary round features a 50-word written test. It took five judges three hours each to grade all the tests. O’Connor called the 50 students March 3 to let them know they were finalists.

“You should have heard the kids. They knew they were finalists (just because of the call),” O’Connor said.

Ladd Lane School had the most students competing, she said.

O’Connor said students really get into the competition.

“Kids really study for this thing,” she said. “They learn so much. They learn public speaking, memorizing and sportsmanship. … It’s fun for kids who excel academically to have some recognition. We need more academic challenges.”

The students were given a list of about 500 words from the state competition list that may come up at the county competition. Also, 10 to 15 percent of the words will be randomly selected from a dictionary. This keeps a level of chance in the event – students can get a word as easy as “cat” but as difficult as “chrysanthemum.”

Words come from a list chosen by the state competition and vary in degree of difficulty, O’Connor said. Words for the elementary category vary from “advise” to “cinematographer.” Junior-high words vary in difficulty from “brief” to “eminence” to “kaleidoscope.”

The county gives families a stipend for expenses to help pay for the trip to the state competitions, according to Tim Foley, county superintendent of schools.

Trophies will be awarded at the county competition, but the stakes get higher at the state event. O’Connor said prizes can be as high as a $1,000 savings bond.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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