Twelve-year-old Hannah Dodt’s confident recitations bookended this year’s Coconino County Spelling Bee Saturday morning at Coconino High School as she secured first place, matching the number that hung around her neck throughout the hour-long competition.
In the ninth round, after the first and second runner-ups both misspelled their final words, Dodt -- a seventh-grader at Flagstaff Home Educators, a local home school program -- correctly spelled “bequeath,” followed by “potash” (potassium carbonate) to secure this year’s win.
Ivan Robertson, a fourth-grader at Puente de Hozho, finished in second place, followed by Jacob Frate, an eighth-grader at San Francisco de Asis, after a tie-breaker round. The two respectfully shook hands following their six-word showdown for second place.
The three finalists were awarded $250, $150 and $100, respectively. The prizes were donated by rotary clubs from Flagstaff, Williams and the Grand Canyon. One representative from each organization also served as a judge.
Coconino County Superintendent of Schools Risha VanderWey said this was the fourth year she has attended the county’s spelling bee, but she is always impressed by the students and the words they are spelling.
“They do such an impressive job coming in front of their peers and their community," she said. "It’s hard and I tip my hat off to them. There are plenty of adults that would have a hard time spelling in front of others."
This year’s competition presented students with words from common household objects to culture- and region-specific terms including “kona” (a southwesterly winter wind in Hawaii) and “ramen.”
Students struggled with tricky words like “bonanza,” “foist,” “dearth” and “agnostic,” but conquered “cummerbund,” “falsetto,” “linden” and “diatribe.”
Despite phonetic challenges and ever-present nerves, though, they remained polite under pressure, ending each request of pronouncer Stephanie Hammond – whether for a definition, origin or use in a sentence – with “please.”
Throughout the competition, Dodt’s confidence was unmatched. Unlike many of the other 20 competing students, Dodt needed no microphone to be heard as she recited each word presented to her. She said her confidence comes from her experience as a dancer.
The finalists all said they spent a lot of time practicing using the spelling word lists provided by the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Repetition is key.
“I would just type the words and then I would quiz myself on the words. Then my parents would quiz me on the words,” Dodt said.
Robertson, 10, took a similar approach, but spent extra time familiarizing himself with pronunciations.
“I would just say them, spell them, then just say them again,” he said. “I would go on the webpage and hear the pronunciation and my parents would give me a quiz.”
The winner’s advice for other spellers: “Just study hard and have fun.”
Dodt will travel to proceed to the state spelling bee on Saturday, March 23 at 1 p.m. at AZ PBS, 500 N. Central Ave., 6th Floor, Phoenix, AZ 85004. The winner of the state bee will represent Arizona at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. in late May or early June.