Sixth-grader wins Johnston County spelling bee

pseligson@newsobserver.comFebruary 23, 2014 

Winner Abigail Pittman, a sixth-grader at Southside Christian School, kneels with one of her prizes from the Johnston County Schools spelling bee: a dictionary.

PAULA SELIGSON — pseligson@newsobserver.com

Johnston County’s winner in a battle of words will compete next in Washington, D.C.

Johnston schools held their annual spelling bee Feb. 10 in the Selma Elementary School auditorium. Thirteen spellers, all in middle school, competed for the right to represent Johnston County in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

One by one, students stood and walked to a microphone at the front of the stage. Judges gave a word and students could ask for the definition, language of origin and for the word to be used in a sentence.

Some of the spellers wrung their hands; others looked up and tried to picture the word in their head. Sometimes a student would pause in the middle of spelling a word and have to start over.

After finishing each word, the spellers waited for the judges. A short ping from a bell meant they had spelled it incorrectly, and the student had to walk offstage, in most cases joining the audience to watch the rest of the competition. Otherwise, a judge said the spelling was correct, and the speller would return to his or her seat and wait for the next round.

Each round gave every speller a chance to spell a word, and the competition lasted eight rounds. Words included mathematics, quiche, contraband, aquatic, sonata and diatribe.

Second-place finisher Carter Hoffman-Edminster, an eighth-grader from Benson Middle School, fell out of the competition on “praline,” spelling it “pralean.” Then Abigail Pittman, a sixth-grader at Southside Christian School in Clayton, won with “cockatoo.”

“I didn’t think I was going to win because I was really nervous, so it was amazing to win,” Abigail said. “I can’t believe I get a free week of vacation.”

A week is how long Abigail will be in Washington, D.C., for the national spelling bee, which ESPN will broadcast. The national competition is May 25-31.

Abigail said her favorite part is the chance to be on TV and be nationally recognized.

“That is really cool and something I think everybody wants to do,” she said.

In Selma, Abigail’s family sat in the audience and watched the competition, which took about two and a half hours.

“Her dad and I are biting our nails and not looking, wanting to go pace outside,” said her mom, Leslie Pittman. “We’re as nervous as she is.”

Pittman hopes her daughter gains self-confidence from the experience: “She’s bright; she’s got that down. She understands that. I want her to believe in herself.”

Abigail said anyone who likes spelling, reading and studying should try competing, too.

“The hardest part for me was studying, but for some people, studying is not that hard,” she said. “So you’ll ace this if you like spelling and can study.”

Carter, the runner-up, said he felt great to have made it that far. To prepare, he said he read a lot of books and practiced spelling words.

Carter said he felt nervous while up on stage. “At first, you’re nervous, and then it gets better as you go on,” he said.

Carter can’t compete next year – he’ll be too old – but he had advice for others who want to try to bee: “Just try and think over the words before they come out of your mouth; otherwise you might mess up. So just think it over really well before you start spelling.”

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