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‘Bee’ great: Isabella seventh grader top speller

Seventh-graders Donovan Cleckley and Maggie Zhang can flat out spell. At the Chilton County Spelling Bee, the young minds engaged in an instant classic Monday morning where they blew through 16 rounds of words.

Stunning even the parents and adult spectators in room 102 at Jefferson State Community College, Cleckley and Zhang spelled puzzlers, such as “ecclesiastical,” “ichthyosaur,” and “montessorian” before the judges nearly ran out of words.

Finding skipped words in previous rounds, the judges sprung “scalpel” on Zhang who acciedentally blurted out the letter “c” before she caught herself.

Rules indicate that any letters spoken count toward the word a contestant spells, so Zhang could not help but finish. Cleckley then capitalized by spelling that word correctly and eventually winning the competition by spelling “calibrate.”

Smiling from ear to ear, Cleckley happily accepted pats on the backs from his family and judges and hoisted his first-place trophy. Zhang also received a trophy.

The two faced stiff competition from their peers as well as younger students. Several fourth and fifth-graders more than held their own with seventh-graders.

The students each won their own respective school spelling bees, qualifying them to compete in the county bee. Cleckley’s victory guarantees him a spot in the upcoming state bee in March, which will be held at Oak Mountain High School.

Contestants included fifth-grader Mabrey Millard from Clanton Intermediate School, seventh-grader Sarah Franklin from Clanton Middle School, seventh-grader Donovan Cleckley from Isabella High School, fourth-grader Justin Macks from Jemison Elementary School, seventh-grader Maggie Zhang from Jemison Middle School, fifth-grader Tyler Williams from Maplesville High School, fourth-grader Jarrett Price from Thorsby High School and seventh-grader Christian Agee from Verbena High School.

WSFA television news anchor Sally Pitts pronounced the words for the contestants.

Chilton County Board of Education special education supervisor Benita Cahalane introduced the children and also named their parents, sponsors and schools.

“The students worked very hard to get here, and their sponsors also worked hard,” she said.

The students then drew numbers indicating the order of the spellers. Young Tyler Williams eyes widened as he read his number and exclaimed once he saw he’d be first up.

“Congratulations, it’s your lucky day,” board of education program supervisor and bee coordinator Adriane Dennis reassured the Maplesville fourth-grader.

Also judging were Pat Doherty and Matthew Staggs.

The students were given two practice rounds to ready themselves for the real deal. Once the bee began, Williams nailed the first word, “beautiful,” and the first of 16 rounds marched on.

All eight contestants breezed through the first several rounds, quickly spelling words like mildew, examine, headache, semifinal, enormous and velocity. Soon, they got a little trickier.

“Urgent,” “premonition” and ���sustenance” overcame contestants, eventually leaving Cleckley and Zhang to battle it out for Chilton County spelling supremacy.