S-P-E-L-L and avoid the bell

Stephanie Gomes
Grant Winkelmann, a student at Jefferson Elementary School, takes his turn at the 2010 Morton District 709 Spelling Bee. A total of 37 spellers competed at the Bertha Frank Center Wednesday with hopes of becoming the district’s top speller.

There were 36 names listed inside the program for Morton School District 709 Spelling Bee; however, there were 37 spellers.

Purely by accident, the one left out: Maya Phan, fifth-grader at Lincoln Elementary School.

So, it was quite a coincidence when Phan stepped up to the microphone at the Bertha Frank Center Wednesday and spelled “antonym” for the win. 

After one practice round, the spellers began to drop like flies — or bees. There were 22 spellers left after round one and just seven standing after round two.

Poi, rouge, bequeath, epiphany and nachtmusik — the words became more complex, and the spellers stumbled.

And soon there were just two girls standing, Phan and Maria Feucht, sixth grader at Lettie Brown Elementary.

In round eight, Feucht spelled “piecemeal” incorrectly, finishing the word instead with “miel.”

Phan spelled “caterpillar” correctly, before moving on to “antonym.”

“I’ve always had trouble with caterpillar” she said, adding that she was nervous toward the end.

Phan said her mom helped out by printing off a list of words online and quizzing her.

“I’m very proud,” said her mom, Sheila Phan.

Her dad, Son Phan, and her third-grade sister, Aja Phan, were also there cheering her along in the audience.

“I couldn’t believe she was one of the last two standing,” added Sheila Phan. “She worked hard for it.”

Also celebrating her success was runner-up Maria Feucht.

“I thought (piecemeal) was a trick word,” said Feucht, who said she prepared by studying many Web sites.

Her parents, Joel and Dawn Feucht, said they were very proud of their daughter’s second-place finish. 

“She loves to read,” Joel Feucht said. “I think that’s why she has so many words in her head.”

He added, “They wiped out all of the junior high kids.”

Amber Roberts, seventh-grade science teacher at the junior high, said all of the spellers did an excellent job.

“It goes much faster than you expect,” she said. “There’s always one or two rounds that eliminate the majority.”

Phan will compete in the Tazewell County Spelling Bee at 9 a.m. Feb. 19 in Tremont.