The last shall almost be first in diocesan spelling bee

Isavel Love, a seventh-grader at Ss. Simon and Jude, spells a word in the later rounds of the diocesan spelling bee Jan. 31. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

From a scriptural beginning to a nearly Gospel conclusion in the final rounds, another diocesan spelling bee is in the books.

The only church-related words that came in between were terms like “chrism,” “charismatic” and “venerable” and appeared early on, including the practice round.

The Jan. 31 spelling bee, like so many before it, was held at St. Francis Xavier and featured a near perfect attendance from the diocese’s elementary schools plus Loyola Academy, the Jesuit-run junior high school on Brophy College Preparatory’s campus. Each speller represented the cream of the crop from their respective schools after winning their own campus-wide contest in recent weeks.

Only two spellers asked Ryan Watson, dean of students at Bourgade Catholic High School who served as the pronouncer, to use their word in a sentence during the first round. The others winged it with seven of them getting their cue — in this case the light “ding” of a service bell — to rest after misspelling their word.

Eight more spellers bowed out a round later. The top 12 advanced to the third round where at least three times Watson freely offered a definition and part of speech because the word had a near homonym. Other words like “pirouetted,” “mandrel” and “crustaceans” proved too difficult.

Just 45 minutes into the competition — including time for opening prayer, instructions and a practice round — the spelling bee was down to the top eight contestants. They had a mixed bag of words with simpler terms like “llama” and “chronic” fired in the same round as “seersucker” and “conjecture.”

By the sixth round, the spelling bee was only about halfway over, but clear winners already emerged. Colleen McCoy-Cejka, assistant superintendent who moderated the spelling bee, announced that the remaining spellers would advance to their respective regional bees in Maricopa County. They were: Isabel Love from Ss. Simon and Jude, Michael Clancy from Christ the King in Mesa, Nicholas Butkiewicz from St. Theresa, Audrey Wood from St. John Bosco and Daniel Campbell from St. Mary-Basha in Chandler.

That also meant Danielle Finnerty from Sacred Heart in Prescott would go on to the Yavapai County Bee, even though she had recently bowed out of the diocesan competition. Katrina Vollmer from San Francisco de Asís in Flagstaff remained in the spelling bee and already clinched a spot in the Coconino County Spelling Bee later this month.

Clancy from Christ the King advanced to round seven of the diocesan bee with spelling bee veterans Butkiewicz and Wood attempting their final word a round later. Butkiewicz, now a sixth-grader, won the diocesan bee last year. Wood, a seventh-grader whose mom and dad both did well in spelling bees in their elementary years, appeared in her fourth diocesan spelling bee — after out-spelling the same student the last two years.

That left Love, Campbell — who was the diocesan runner up two years ago — and Vollmer whizzing through the next four rounds together. Finally after Love correctly spelled “rendezvous,” the spelling bee met a definite turning point.

Both Campbell and Vollmer missed their words giving Love a shot at gold. Without asking to hear the word again or for a definition or sentence, Love confidently spelled “R-A-C-ON-T-E-U-R” for the win.

Isabel Love, Katrina Vollmer and Daniel Campbell were the top winners in the diocesan spelling bee Jan. 31. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

“I often like to picture the word in my head first,” the seventh-grader said of her winning strategy.

All three top finishers said a love of reading helped expose them to a variety of words and spelling patterns. The diocesan competition was significantly shorter than their respective school spelling bee. Campbell’s went 25 rounds at St. Mary-Basha with the last 10 or so between him and a fifth-grader.

Love’s lasted close to an hour at Ss. Simon and Jude and went 20 rounds. Vollmer’s lasted 15 rounds with a fourth-grader finishing in the top four behind a trio of San Francisco de Asís eighth-graders.

It was a short spell-off for second place in the diocesan spelling bee. Campbell missed his word but Vollmer, who had consistently spelled last throughout the entire competition, correctly spelled hers and then “sepia” to clinch second place in the diocesan bee — and nearly illustrated a familiar Gospel passage. She has, however, placed first in county twice. Her advice to future spelling bee contestants: go slow.

Campbell said it helps to ask for a definition. If anything, it gives a speller extra time to think.