By David Irvin
A little extra effort each day helped Zach Gillooly repeat Saturday as the regional spelling bee.
The next stop for the 13-year-old Yucca Junior High student on the spelling bee circuit is Washington, D.C., where he will compete at the national level.
“There’s a lot of competition there (in Washington),” he said. “The kids from the bigger metropolitan areas have to fight through a lot more competition to get there,” said Gillooly, who was eliminated in the second round at last year’s national tournament
The Clovis Community College Town Hall was comfortably filled with head-nodding mothers and fathers as the 2005 regional spelling bee sponsored by Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico got under way. But with the end of every round, more students were dismissed from the stage and more parents would scuttle out.
Competitors came from Des Moines, Portales, Floyd, Grady, Texico, Melrose, Logan and Clovis. In order to survive, spellers had to negotiate words that included “brocade,” “agronomy,” “mallard,” “conscription,” “gerrymander” and “gullet.”
It only took four rounds to narrow down the field from about 30 students to six.
Evangelina Castro of Logan Municipal Schools placed second at Saturday’s competition. She estimated spending less than five hours in total preparing for the competition.
“I’m surprised I got this far,” the 13-year-old said.
Gillooly and Castro squared off against each other in the final head-to-head round. Castro faltered first, misspelling “metronome.” But Gillooly failed to take advantage and also misspelled the word.
When Castro slipped on “crochet,” Gillooly took control. First he verified the French origin of the word and spelled it right. He brought home the victory by nailing “excruciating.”
Patrick Gillooly said the whole spelling-bee season really worked on his son last year.
“He was so burnt out from last year, that he didn’t study at all until he received the Paideia book in January, and he hit it hard from then on,” the father said. Leading up to the school and regional competitions, his son was studying about 1 1/2 hours per day.
Muleshoe’s Stephanie Stancell, who took third place, said she and her parents prepared for about 24 hours leading up to the event.
“My parents, they wanted me to get to Washington, and everybody did, but I’m not that competitive about getting first place,” she said. Stancell was representing Clovis Area Home Educators on Saturday, a group made up of home-schooled children.
Ladona Clayton, Clovis schools assistant superintendent for instruction, said these spelling bees help students learn on a number of levels.
“I believe the general purpose is to refine our students’ language skills, it enhances their communication, but also their writing ability,” she said. “They learn a lot about the English language, and they also learn what it’s like to compete, to set a goal and meet the goal, and be very self disciplined to get to this level.”