The competition grew in intensity Thursday as it got down to two final contestants — eighth-grade student Alejandro Munoz and fifth-grade student Magaly Najera.
The words presented by announcer Antonia Salaz grew in difficulty in the final round of the Portales Municipal Schools’ annual Spanish spelling bee.
It ended with Munoz winning, spelling two words in a row correctly after Najera misspelled the first of the two.
I was very proud of them,” said Henry Montano, the director of federal and bilingual programs for the district. “They take pride in what they do. You can tell that they worked hard and studied. That’s one thing we want to stress is that they are all winners.”
Munoz said he was surprised to win.
“I thought I was going to be out in the fifth round,” Munoz said. “I’m excited and very happy.”
Montano said the New Mexico Association for Bilingual Education sponsors the Spanish spelling bee for New Mexico’s school districts. Portales school district bilingual secretary Esther Bargas organizes the Portales committee for the competition.
Portales has participated in the competition since it first began in 1994.
“New Mexico was at one time the only state with a Spanish spelling bee,” Montano said. “Now there are five states.”
Montano said each Portales school has its own spelling bee. First and second place winners from each grade advance to district competition, where one student will become district champion.
Munoz will represent Portales in the New Mexico state spelling bee April 9 at The National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque.
Geni Flores, a dual-language professor at Eastern New Mexico University, volunteers to judge each year. Flores said she has judged spelling bees in Lovington, Clovis and Portales in past years but now judges only Portales competitions.
“This year was probably better than ever,” Flores said. “The students were probably better prepared this year than I’ve ever seen them before. The competition went longer than I ever remember it being because the students were so well prepared.”
Flores said even the students who were removed early on in the competition did exceptionally well.
“Some of the students who were out early were just as well prepared,” she said. “There were just little minor mistakes that caused them to lose.”
Montano said a national Spanish spelling bee competition with about 25 competitors will be held for the first time July 9 in Albuquerque.