Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2007 • Fletcher Walker student takes second place at Lassen County Spelling Bee

Concentration … students may not have been asked to spell the word at the 35th Annual Lassen County Spelling Bee but their attention was totally focused on the word they were given by Emcee Don Baker.

One-by-one the students in each division, which included grades 4-6, 7-9 and 10-12, walked to the microphone to spell the word given and used correctly in a sentence by the emcee to define it.

The top two contestants in each division went to the “Sudden Death” playoff. They were chosen by their cumulative scores in the written portion of the competition and two oral rounds.

Sarah Ratliff, a sixth-grader from Fletcher Walker Elementary, participated in the playoff round in her division and brought home a plaque for second place.

She said the word that tripped her up during the sudden death playoff was extravagance. However, she recognized most of the words contestants were asked to spell because she had worked through word lists from the Lassen County Office of Education. During practice, Ratliff would read a word from the list then close her eyes and spell it. If she spelled the word correctly she would go to the next word on the list.

“During the competition I wrote every word on a tablet before spelling it orally because I wanted to make sure I was spelling what I was thinking,” said Ratliff.

Ron Outland, an independent study teacher for Westwood School District and spelling bee advisor, said a local competition with contestants in grades 4-8 helped to determine which students would go on to the countywide event. Teachers selected the students for the Westwood Spelling Bee.

The high point winner in the Westwood competition was Ratliff with her classmate Selena Stevens the runner up. Stevens was named alternate for the 4-6 grade division in Lassen County. Sedona Stewart had the top score in fourth-grade and Meghan Hennessey in fifth-grade. For the junior high division seventh-grader Aaron Cox had the high score and represented Westwood at the countywide competition. Eighth-grader Megan Brecht was the alternate.

This year Westwood High was not represented in the competition. Bob Owens, Lassen County Superintendent of Education, said it was difficult to get high school students to participate. In addition to Westwood, there were no teams from Herlong or Big Valley represented at the county spelling bee. Lassen High and New Horizons Christian School were the only two participating high schools.

“Hopefully in the future we will have more interest from the high school levels to do this competition. Representing your school at a spelling bee looks good on a resume,” said Owens.

All the students from Westwood who participated in the local spelling bee as well as those who went on to the county competition spent time in practice. Outland said during lunch break they would meet and work with each other on the word lists provided by Lassen County Office of Education.

The local spelling bee was conducted with the same rules and format used by the county as well so students were able to practice walking to a podium to spell a word. This helps students become comfortable with the process, said Outland.

Serious spelling bee competitors frequently practice from word lists and other materials that help to develop spelling skills. To learn how to spell challenging words correctly competitors will study root words, the foreign languages from which many English words are based as well as tracing the history of a word.

Spelling books published by Noah Webster in 1786 helped to initiate the concept of the spelling bee although the history of this term is not clear. A “bee” was a term used to describe a social gathering for a particular activity such as quilting.

The National Spelling Bee was started by the Louisville Courier-Journal in 1925. In 1941 Scripps Howard News Service became the sponsor.

Owens said schools participating in the Lassen County Spelling Bee could select a student to send to the competition sponsored by the Record Searchlight newspaper in Redding. Contestants who do well in the Redding competition may advance to the national competition held in Washington, D.C.