No stars emerge in drawn-out Ft. Defiance bee

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

GANADO, Ariz., March 7, 2013

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(Times photo — Cindy Yurth)

Shaundiin Van Cruz from Seba Dalkai Boarding School takes her turn at the microphone as her competitors look on in the Ft. Defiance Agency Spelling Bee 6th grade division in Ganado last Thursday. Van Cruz was eliminated after leaving the second "c" out of "crescent."

N o stellar spellers emerged at the Defiance Agency Spelling Bee here Thursday. The day was spent trying to find a few who could spell two consecutive words right.

The fourth-grade competition went an interminable 48 rounds, interrupted by a lunch break, with the final contestants misspelling word after word.

The eighth-grade bout was headed in the same direction when pronouncer Dian Guiett wisely reverted to easier words that had already been used in the younger grade competitions.

"The words get harder and harder as you go down the list, so this is going to go on all day unless we do something," she told the judges.

Even with switching to the easier words, the match went 31 rounds, the last 26 of which featured Trent Tso of Seba Dalkai Boarding School trading the lead with Julianne Billiman of St. Michael's Indian School.

When one contestant got a word right and the other misspelled, the presumed winner would fall down on the "championship round" where they have to correctly spell one more word. When that happens, the other contestant is back in the game.

Even the contestants' parents were getting frustrated.

"After 28 rounds, I was ready to throw the book at her," confessed Julianne's mom, Kimberly Billiman.

After stumbling over cilantro ("salentro"), staccato ("stackato"), salve ("sav") and many more, Tso finally spelled "providence" and then "geothermal" correctly to win.

He said they were words he remembered from third grade, "When I used to read a lot."

Billiman said she had studied with flash cards, while Tso admitted he hadn't studied at all.

"It takes too long," he shrugged. "I don't really know how to study."

The sixth-grade match went almost as long, 26 rounds, most of them a standoff between Josiah Miles of Ganado Intermediate School and Kathleen Davis of Kin Da Lichii Olta featuring such spectacular flubs as "shurgrin" for "chagrin," "anxct" for "angst," "parrotpet" for "parapet" and "obnipited" for "omnipotent."

Finally Miles correctly spelled "hydrology" and then "bambino" to win. (Coincidentally, "bambino" - a baby or young child - ended up being the winning word in the fourth grade match as well.)

Miles had remembered "hydrology" as a vocabulary word in one of his classes.

Seventh grade, by contrast, was mercifully short, with the original field of 16 contestants pared down to six by Round 2 and Delila Nakaidinae of St. Michael's neatly knocking out her last competitor, Tamika Kee, in Round 5 by spelling "simile" like an English major while Kee substituted an "i" for the "a" in potash.

Nakaidinae then easily plowed through her championship word, "polder," a piece of low-lying land reclaimed from the sea or a river.

"Simile" she knew from having studied them in English class; as for "polder," "I guess I'm just a good guesser," she shrugged.

The fifth grade, too, had a winner early on, when Jaden Cleveland of Ganado Elementary School hit the mark on "mammoth" and then "holster" in Round 6, but then there was a brief run-off for second place because the other two final contestants had gone out at the same time, misspelling "chutney" ("chuni") and "leotard" ("leatard"), respectively.

In two more rounds, Shawntai Allen of Hilltop Christian School claimed second place with "alderman" and "gristle" while Cheyenne Yelloweyes of Greasewood Springs Community School got the wrong "perscription."

Yelloweyes, upset by the close loss, ran to her mother's arms, where Genevieve Yelloweyes told her daughter she was proud of her for having gone that far.

"She's in sports, she's on student council, she's in the spelling bee," said the doting mom. "I'm a single parent, so I must be doing something right."

Most of the winners said they had studied by memorizing lists of potential spelling bee words handed out by their sponsors.

It's a terribly inefficient way to study, since no one can possibly memorize every word in the English language and you don't really learn how to spell that way. In the week before the Navajo Nation Spelling Bee occurs in Chinle March 7, the two winners from each grade level who will move on to that bee would do well to learn some Greek and Latin prefixes and suffixes and other "language of origin" tips, so they can make more educated guesses.

Not one contestant at the Ft. Defiance bee asked the pronouncer for language of origin - the key to spelling in English.

If they don't, they may be in for some chagrin (which comes from French, hence the soft "ch"). Or maybe even shurgrin.

Winners at the Ft. Defiance bee received dictionaries donated by Harrison-Middleton University along with commemorative T-shirts or sweatshirts.

Here's the list of winners:

2nd grade: 1st, Kelly Haven, Ft. Defiance Elementary School; 2nd, Jonathan Cotton, Tse Ho Tso Elementary School; 3rd, Winona Davis, Kin Da Lichii Olta

3rd grade: 1st, Vivika Lewis, Tse Ho Tso Elementary School; 2nd, Anaya Barton, Dilcon Community School; 3rd, Alisha Henry, Tse Ho Tso Elementary School

4th grade: 1st, Cariza St. Maria, Naschitti Elementary School; 2nd, Aaron Lewis, Hilltop Elementary School; 3rd, Sierra McCraith, Naschitti Elementary School

5th grade: Jaden Cleveland, Ganado Intermediate School; 2nd, Shawntai Allen, Hilltop Christian School; 3rd, Cheyenne Yelloweyes, Greasewood Springs Community School

6th grade: 1st, Josiah Miles, Ganado Intermediate School; 2nd, Kathleen Davis, Kin Da Lichii Olta; 3rd, Shanden Joe, Dilcon Community School

7th grade: 1st, Delila Nakaidinae, St. Michael's Indian School; 2nd, Tamika Kee, Kin Da Lichii Olta; 3rd, Richard James, Ganado Intermediate School

8th grade: 1st, Trent Tso, Seba Dalkai Boarding School; 2nd, Julianne Billiman, St. Michael's Indian School; 3rd, Charles Tsosie, Sanders Middle School.

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