Everything leading up to the McDuffie County Spelling Bee was a bad omen for Karlee Brinkley. The seventh grader forgot the bee was taking place last Thursday, so not only did she forget to tell her parents, but she arrived late and didn't take her place on the stage until all the other contestants had already received their name tags, instructions and were seated. Then, when she peeled the backing off the large sticker name tag, she noticed that her name was misspelled with a "y" instead of two "e's."
But in the end, it was Karlee's natural ability that left her standing alone on the stage as the county's winner. Karlee and fellow student Zach Ponton had battled back and forth with words such as "indiscretion," "yearnful" and "dormancy" in the final rounds of the competition.
Karlee bested Zach when he misspelled "drivel," and she followed with a correct spelling of "nocturnal" then "authentic" to win.
"I'm surprised she won, but I'm not shocked. She always does real well with her school work," Rebecca Brinkley, Karlee's mother, said.
Mrs. Brinkley was not aware the bee was taking place and did not attend, but she received a phone call from Karlee at the end of the bee to announce the good news.
"Her father was terribly upset that she didn't tell us it was today," Mrs. Brinkley said. "But, she may not have done as well if we'd been here. So maybe it was for the best."
Like the national spelling bee, the local competition was for students in fourth through eighth grades. Other contestants were: Veronica Baldwin, Turner Gilliam, Travis Stroup and Melody Yingling from Dearing Elementary School; Cappy Black, Ta'Shaundra Boyd, Kayla Ochoa, Caitlyn Tam, Mariah Wall and Mikelyn Willis from Norris Elementary School; and, Robbie Hudson, Fallon Sellers, Megan Thompson and Cullen Wallace from Thomson Middle School.
Each contestant was rewarded for their preparation and participation with a certificate and refreshments following the competition. Norris Elementary contestants were transported to the competition in style thanks to Reverend Isaac Eberhart, who volunteered his services as a limousine driver.
Other proud parents and family members of contestants attended the competition, which was held in the Thomson Middle School auditorium. Cappy Black, a fifth grader at Norris Elementary, hung in through several rounds with the elder students before she misspelled "bias."
"When I heard her call it out, I panicked and thought, 'Oh no,' because I knew we didn't work on that one," Renee Black, her mother, said. "But I'm very proud of her."
Caller for the event was Lynne Entrekin, a retired educator and a realtor with Coldwell Banker, Watson and Knox.
"I like words. It's a fun thing... Some roll off your tongue, and others are tricky... This is not a tricky contest, although there are some tricky English words," Mrs. Entrekin said to the contestants.
Judges for the event were Matt Funk, the youth director of Thomson First United Methodist Church, Lisa Kitchens, retired news director of WTHO radio station, and Countess Wilkerson, retired Dearing Elementary teacher and current part-time reading teacher at Crossroads Learning Center.
"The students were very well practiced. I love to see them do what I can't do," Ms. Wilkerson said. "I marvel at their ability to spell."
Karlee and Zach both will be honored at the McDuffie County School Board monthly meeting on Feb. 15. Karlee will represent the county at the district spelling bee at The Augusta Chronicle's Morris Auditorium on Saturday, March 10.