The winner of this year’s Diocesan Spelling Bee blazed a trail for himself and his school.
The Jan. 29 competition at St. Francis Xavier marked the fifth-grader’s first Diocesan Spelling Bee in Phoenix. His family moved to Arizona last June. It also marked his first spelling bee ever.
Chema Estreller, a fifth-grader at St. Thomas Aquinas, also set precedent as the youngest speller to represent his Avondale school since it opened in 2003. As soon as roughly four final ping-pong rounds ended between him and the runner up — who earned the same spot in 2017 and won in 2016 — Estreller earned another title: the first from St. Thomas Aquinas to be crowned the top diocesan speller. Estreller proceeds to his regional spelling bee Feb. 23.
Although only the winner and runner up Nick Butkiewicz, an eighth-grader from St. Theresa, went home with a trophy and different Amazon gift card amounts, all 26 contestants bore at least two “winner” titles themselves. They outspelled their classroom — and grade level if their school has two classrooms each — plus outspelled fellow students across every grade.
For the youngest speller, third-grader Elaina Sawalha from Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale, that meant spelling better than some 420 students. This year’s diocesan competition also featured two fifth-graders — including the winner — a handful of sixth-graders, six seventh-graders and 11 other eighth-graders.
For one student, spelling “calculus” was as difficult as many find the subject matter itself. Other missed words included: penitent, amethyst, affidavit, maraca and incorruptible.
Estreller correctly spelled 16 words to win the bee including pegasi, homonym and nougat, one of at least six food-related words Ryan Watson, assistant principal at Bourgade Catholic High School, dished up when it was Estreller’s turn to spell.
Butkiewicz spelled 100 percent of his words right in 2016 to win his debut year and continued to place in the top five ever since. That also put him in his regional spelling bee for at least three years. This year, Butkiewicz spelled every word right except “herpetology.”