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RHMS spelling bee crowns a champion
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When Richmond Hill Middle School kicked off its spelling bee last week, 48 of the school’s best spellers stood in a circle in the media room while teacher Julie Pecenka read words aloud.

An hour and 108 words later, only Kendall Thomas and Cassidy Rahn were left standing.

That’s when Thomas, a 7th grader, correctly spelled "incapable" followed by "dimension" to claim the crown.

Rahn, a 6th grader, finished second.

Thomas now goes on to compete against other spellers from Bryan County Schools in February. Rahn is the alternate.

Both girls seemed relieved it was over.

"I was pretty nervous the whole time," said the soft-spoken Rahn, who was competing in her first spelling bee.

"I wasn’t nervous until it got down to the last nine people," said Thomas, a seventh grader competing in the spelling bee competition for the second time. "That’s when I got nervous."

If so, Thomas didn’t show it. The confident 12-year-old and aspiring orthopedic surgeon confidently spelled her way through an obstacle course of eight words ranging from ‘mildew’ and ‘vengeance’ to ‘migraine.’

Rahn, 12 and also an aspiring physician, had a tough list to deal with too. She drew words such as ‘dangerous,’ ‘chemical’ and ‘larynx,’ but was right on target until the end.

"I did better than I thought I would," Rahn said.

Both students said words spelled with double consonants were the toughest to deal with. Thomas said she didn’t prepare for the bee because "I had no idea the spelling bee was today. I didn’t study at all."

Rahn did hit the books, a bit.

"I did study a little at home, a little bit," she said. "I went over the words that are more difficult for me to spell."

The word lists are compiled by the E.W. Scripps Company, which runs the national spelling bee, and are the same for all schools, said Martha Coffield, the media specialist at Richmond Hill Middle School who has administered the RHMS spelling bee since 1994. Students who compete in the school bee got there after winning classroom competitions, and every effort is made to ensure no one has an unfair advantage. Students are randomly assigned numbers under which they compete, which makes it necessary for them to be able spell a wide range of words to be successful.

Among the words RHMS students were asked to spell: "subterranean," "rutabaga," and "cajolery." Also on the list: "Conundrum," "omniscient," "circiutuitous," "anticoagulant," "latitudinarian," and "aggrandizement."

"Some of these words are very difficult to spell for anybody, not just students," Coffield said.

As anyone who has watched the national spelling bee knows, students are allowed to ask the reader for definitions and that the word be used in a sentence. One student at RHMS did both after stumbling at ‘galley,’ then in a deadpan tone asked Pecenka, "Can you spell that for me?"

She smiled. The boy sat down.

Eventually, everyone did but Thomas, who said she didn’t get past her first word last year, and Rahn, who said she did better than she thought she would in her first bee.

Coffield gave both girls high marks. She also praised the field.

"This was a tough bee," Coffield said. "I thought everyone did an excellent job. You want everything to be perfect but unfortunately you can’t have 48 winners."

Coffield, a former language arts teacher, said the ability to spell is becoming a lost art, but contests such as the spelling bee show it is not totally gone. She said it helps emphasize the importance of spelling and rewards those who master the skill. And good spellers are usually well rounded students who are involved in activities outside the classroom.

Rahn, softspoken, named rec soccer as a hobby and math as her favorite subject. Thomas, who likes science classes best, said she participates in a number of activities, ranging from her rec sports to youth choir at her church. She’s also a member of the school’s academic team and pep band, among other activities.

If she wins the system level, Thomas goes on to compete at the district level in late February. The state spelling bee is in March and the National Bee is in May.

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