By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Olivia Stuckey, a sixth grader at W.S. Neal Middle School, correctly spelled “gridiron” and “caterpillar” in the ninth round last Wednesday, February 8, to edge out Flomaton High eighth grader Julianna Grimes and win the 2022-23 Escambia County Spelling Bee.
Students in grades 3-8 from 10 different schools, each of whom won his or her respective school’s spelling bee, competed in the county competition. The qualifiers included one each from Brewton Elementary and Brewton Middle, both part of the Brewton City Schools System.
The county’s Elementary Curriculum and Instruction Supervisor, Nicole Spottswood, moderated the event. She told the contestants prior to the first word that, “you’re all winners,” and encouraged each to “take a deep breath” before the friendly competition got under way.
Flomaton Elementary Principal Courtney McBride was the pronouncer. She also praised each member of the group prior to the onset of the contest, telling them that winning the spelling bee at their respective schools “is a huge accomplishment in and of itself.”
A four-member panel (Lotoya West, Shawn Butler, Eric Andrews, and Connie Reeves) sat as judges, and Reeves also served as rounds keeper.
Student helpers Bear Brown, Tripp Lassiter and Emory Nall handed out programs as about three dozen teachers, administrators, family members and friends entered the Flomaton High School auditorium. The trio then manned the serving table at the reception that followed the competition.
Representing Atmore-area schools were Brylon McGhee (Huxford Elementary), Madison Perez (Escambia County Middle) and LaRoyia Turner (Rachel Patterson Elementary).
McGhee made it furthest among the local students, spelling “target,” “flannel,” “pigeon,” “tantrum,” “admirer” and “hamlet” to make it into the seventh round. A misstep in trying to spell “chia” left Stuckey and Grimes to determine where the large trophy that resides at the winning school for a year would be displayed.
The other competitors were Charlotte Fuqua (Brewton Elementary), Catherine Rexroat (Brewton Middle), Danielle Akers (Flomaton Elementary), Brenner Wallace (Pollard McCall Junior High) and Naomi Updike (W.S. Neal Elementary).
With just two contestants left, the eighth grader rattled off the correct spelling of “putrid” to start the eighth round, and the sixth grader countered by spelling “spaniel” correctly.
Grimes slipped up on “gridiron” in Round 9 before Stuckey put all the right letters in the right places to correctly spell that word, then closed her eyes tightly and calmly spelled “caterpillar” to end the competition and claim the district title.
The new spelling champ wore a quiet smile and was thrifty with her words after the event as she posed for photos with her mother and sister, WSNMS Principal Perry Updike and others.
“I’m just glad I studied and had the time to come here today and win,” Olivia said.
Her sister, Rachel, competed in the county spelling bee when she was in fourth grade. She agreed the competition can be nerve wracking.
“I’m very proud of her,” Rachel said. “I was very anxious because, coming from experience, I know how hard it is. I’m proud her hard work paid off.”
Jenette Stuckey, mother of both girls, said she helped all she could, but stressed that the majority of the prep work was done by her daughters.
“It makes me feel so proud,” she said. “I’m thankful they both decided to study hard and work. I gave them some tools they might use to study — like repeating words and writing words — and I helped them study here and there, but this is something they wanted for themselves, and they both worked hard for it.”
Stuckey’s path to the district title was paved with the correct spellings of “useful,” “criminal,” “shrimp,” “erode,” “reckon,” “savvy” and “tolerable” during the first seven rounds.
Grimes earned her trip to the championship round by correctly spelling “empty,” “yammer,” “slogan,” “science,” “tongue,” and “bleary,” along with one other word that could not be heard.
Stuckey’s win earned her a berth in the Alabama State Spelling Bee, to be held March 18 in Birmingham.