Uniforms of red, blue and green filled the stage in the gymnasium as 26 students dreamed of being crowned the 2016 diocesan Spelling Bee Champion Feb. 2. Students from every corner of the diocese traveled to St. Francis Xavier Elementary School for the annual competition.
It’s held every year in conjunction with Catholic Schools Week and co-sponsored by The Catholic Sun. Many students who participated this year were seasoned professionals from previous Bees, while others displayed their spelling prowess for the first time.
The competition kicked off with a prayer, led by Kim Cavnar, principal at St. Francis Xavier.
“Contestants, I want you to take a breath and as you take that breath in, let the Holy Spirit fill you,” Cavnar said. “Sometimes things can get intense, so God give us your Spirit to really be peaceful.”
The students, who had won spelling bees at their schools, waited patiently for their practice round to begin while Colleen McCoy-Cejka, assistant superintendent of Catholic Schools, explained the rules and reminded them how far they each had come. “We’re so proud of your accomplishments so far,” McCoy-Cejka said.
Battle for the trophies began as students ranging from third through eighth grade rapidly fired off a variety of words. Deep into the competition, students began bowing out on words such as “Nonage,” “Bicameral” and “Quadruped.”
Eventually only two contestants remained — Amelia Chapman an eighth-grader from St. Gregory and Nickolas Butkiewicsz, a fifth-grader from St. Theresa. The competition was stiff between the two but Butkiewicsz managed to clinch the title of this year’s champion, with the word “Unau.”
Trophies had been presented and half the contestants exited the stage before the judges determined at the last minute that a tie-breaker was needed for second place. Gabriel Nield, the defending champion from last year’s bee and an eighth-grader at St. John Vianney, was called back to the stage.
Going head-to-head both contestants misspelled two words in a row. Chapman then spelled “Feminine” correctly while Nield successfully spelled “Dilemma.” The competitors fought for another five minutes until Nield misspelled “Dirigible.” By correctly spelling both “Pharaoh” and “Honeysuckle,” Chapman then secured her second place title.
With the competition finally over all the contestants could relax and celebrate the victories. Butkiewicsz explained that he never expected to win. “I had my hopes high because last year I was runner-up for our school spelling bee but I never thought I would win this. I’m really excited!”
Chapman expressed the same feelings. “I thought I could probably make it to the top five, that was the goal, but it was really nice to win second place. My school hasn’t moved past third place, so that was kind of my goal too, but I was okay if I didn’t make it that far.”
Both contestants won trophies and Butkiewicsz will receive an Amazon gift certificate. Butkiewicsz will also move on to the state competition coming March 19. He will demonstrate his superior spelling skills among Arizona’s other diocesan and county-level winners including Katrina Vollmer, a seventh-grader at San Francisco de Asís in Flagstaff. Vollmer returns to the statewide competition this year as Coconino County’s top speller.