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Mon, March 18

Prescott speller headed to nationals

PRESCOTT – He may not know what some of the words mean, but Christian Academy of Prescott sixth-grader Andy Roberts can spell them – in fact, his mom, Ann, said his teacher calls him "The Spellchecker."

This week, Andy and the rest of his family will travel to Washington, D.C., for the national spelling bee.

"I felt surprised," he said of his winning fourth place at the regional spelling bee in order to move on to the nationals. Students from Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, parts of California, parts of Utah and parts of Nevada competed in regionals.

To compete in regionals, Andy had to win first or second in the district competition and first through fourth in the final rounds there.

Although he said "sometimes I don't know words," he said that usually spelling "just kind of comes natural."

Spelling bee coordinators publish a list of 1,600 to 1,800 words in the fifth- to eighth-grade spelling category for students to study before the district and final round bees take place. Andy and Ann practice those words in the car on the way to and from school.

But, for the regionals and nationals, the spellmasters (who tell the spellers which words to spell) read words off an unpublished list.

In answer to a question about how people know which words are on that list, Andy said, "they don't."

He said people study the dictionary for the regionals and nationals.

"I don't want to study the dictionary," he said. But he did say he needs to do more studying before the national bee, which takes place May 15.

Using a combination of luck and skill – "I'd say it's half and half," he said – Andy has successfully spelled his way out of plenty of nerve-wracking situations. He said he gets the most nervous at the beginning of each bee, because "you don't want to get out. But when you get to the last two, you ease down again, because you know you're going to get to the next step."

He lost on the word "remembrance" at the district spelling bee, and remembers being quite surprised when he spelled "apropos" correctly.

"Everyone was laughing," he said of the latter, "because I got it right and I was surprised."

"They know you got lucky and they kind of laugh," he said of the general mood among participants. "And sometimes my mom's face is like, 'how did you get that right?'"

Aside from spelling, Andy said he's good at language and math; science, on the other hand, isn't his favorite.

And even though "this is a Christian school," he said, "I'm not very good at Bible."

Ann said Andy earns mostly A's, and only a few B's, so even in those he termed his weak subjects, he's pretty good.

"I look at it as a gift," she said of his spelling talent.

Andy enjoys baseball, guitar playing, paintball and movies as well as spelling, and though he said he's a little nervous about competing against 41 other fifth- through eighth-graders at next week's national spelling bee, he knows how to spell "triskaidekaphobia," and he knows what it means: a fear of the number 13.

Luckily, the national spelling bee takes place Saturday, the 15th.

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