Eighth-grader wins bee, is onto regional
by: John Klicker, John Laurie, right, took first place in the Portland Lutheran Elementary School Spelling Bee Tuesday, Jan. 22. He spells a word as the second-place speller, Andrew Khaw, looks on.

At the end there are two.

John Laurie and Andrew Khaw. Eighth-graders at Portland Lutheran Elementary School.

They stand together on a stage once occupied by more than a score of their fellow students competing in the school's spelling bee Tuesday, Jan. 22.

All the other students have misspelled a word, and had to exit stage left, returning to a gymnasium floor filled with children cheering on the spellers.

First Andrew spells 'confetti.' John hit back with 'filibuster.' Andrew came back with 'democracy.' John struggled a bit before successfully spelling 'eureka.' Andrew 'caribou.' John 'curriculum.' Andrew 'imperative.' John 'protagonist.'

Then Holly Schell, the spelling bee emcee, asks Andrew to spell 'bureaucracy.' It's of French and Greek origin, she notes. Andrew finally misspells it, yet another citizen felled by bureaucracy.

But there's a catch in this final round. Not only must John correctly spell 'bureaucracy,' he must spell an additional word as well if he is to win. First, he spells 'bureaucracy' correctly, then 'incredulous.'

With his victory, John is set to go to the Portland Tribune/Comcast regional spelling bee at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland on Saturday, March 8. The winner of that event will go to Washington, D.C., in May for the national bee.

John admits there were trying moments on stage.

'I never heard the word 'obsequious,' ' he says. 'I knew it was going to be an 'ous,' and I knew it was going to be a 'y' or 'i' for the 'e', so I just figured it out.'

He's a veteran of bees, noting that he'll be joining Andrew at Concordia University on Thursday, Feb. 14, to represent Portland Lutheran at another bee. John says he spent 45 minutes to an hour daily preparing for his school's competition, but he's willing to share his secret to tackle difficult words.

'Always try to break it into two different words. Like 'salmonella.' 'Salmon' then 'ella.' '

He adds that he doesn't let the prospect of losing scare him.

'You sort of think there will always be another bee, and if you don't win, it's not the end of the world.'

Andrew, who represented Portland Lutheran at the regional last year, was also philosophical about losing.

'I have a lot going on, so studying for a spelling bee would've made my life more busy.'

Both boys counseled other spellers to take it easy.

'I just kind of don't focus on the nerves,' Andrew says. 'You just take deep breaths and spell clearly.'

Azaria Coakley, a fifth-grader, stumbled in the first round over the word 'mosque,' which she acknowledged she'd never heard.

'I felt like 'Oh, I'm a loser' because normally I'm a really good speller,' she says, adding that she competed in last year's regional spelling bee. However, she says that short words can trip up good spellers.

Her classmate, Gabi Rush, also stumbled in the first round, spelling 'nosiest' with and extra 'i.'

'I's are simple little things,' she says with a chuckle.

Nonetheless, she'd love to compete in a bee again.

'It gives you the whole nerve-wracking thing, and it's kind of fun.'

Pat Kunert, principal, says the bee serves a purpose beyond encouraging children to compete. Computer spell-checks don't always catch every mistake, she notes, so it's important for students to become competent spellers.

'It's kind of like learning to tie your shoes. If you have Velcro, you won't remember how to tie them.'

Schell, who teaches seventh grade, adds that bees are one way for schools to celebrate children's scholarly endeavors.

'I just think they're so much fun for the kids, and they're a real good opportunity for them to experience success academically.'

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