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March 13, 2013

A spellbinding victory

Western eighth-grader Minka Gill wins regional bee

— Ever heard of the word laterigrade? Could you spell it?

13-year-old Minka Gill had never heard of the word, which is defined as running sideways.

But she did know how to spell it, and that was enough to win first place at the 2013 Kokomo Tribune Regional Spelling Bee Tuesday night.

Gill, an eighth-grader at Western Middle School, clenched the title after an intense final round of spelling against runner-up Jonathan Carter, a 14-year-old student from Eastern Junior High School.

The two competitors volleyed 16 words back and forth before Gill nailed the spelling of “laterigrade.”

Twice before, Gill had a chance to clench victory after Carter misspelled the words “adipose” and “bullionist.” But she had to return to the competition when she couldn’t find the right letters for “liquesce” and “prevaricate.”

“I wasn’t even really sure about ‘laterigrade,’” Gill said, who asked the judges for the word’s definition and language of origin. “I just had to piece it together by its roots. Once I knew I’d gotten it right and I’d won, it was just surreal.”

Gill took down 31 competitors from middle schools in six counties to claim the title of regional spelling bee champion.

The spoils? An all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to compete in the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 28. Gill also received at trophy, a one-year subscription to Britannica Online, a 2013 United States mint-proof set and a hefty Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

During the final round back-and-forth, Gill meticulously spelled out each word on her hand before reciting it to the judges.

Carter, on the other hand, would begin the word, and then take 45-second pauses in the middle of spelling before stating the next letter. With closed eyes, he stood quietly on stage as the crowd packed into Kresge Hall at Indiana University Kokomo silently waited for Carter to finish.

What was he thinking about?

“I was just thinking about all the different rules I’d read, like how different letters are used in different languages,” he said.

“I was unfamiliar with a lot of the words, so I tried to lean on the rules on how to spell. But they didn’t help me very much.”

In the first two rounds, 15 competitors left the stage after misspelling words like “brackish,” “ingenious,” and “percolate.”

Four spellers went down in round three, and seven more were knocked out during round four with words like “angst” and “flamboyant.”

Rounds five and six did away with the remaining six competitors.

Gill said she’s tried to win the regional spelling bee since fifth grade but wasn’t able to pull it off until this year. She said she studied for the bee during every free second she had, and would spend most weekends reading through word lists.

“I just can’t believe all the hard work paid off,” she said after Tuesday’s competition. “It feels so nice.”

During the fierce final round against Carter, Gill said she tried her best to keep  from losing her nerve.

“It was really nerve wracking, so I just tried to stay calm and focus,” she said. “You just have to keep your head in the game. In the end, it comes down to a little bit of luck and a lot of studying. You just have to try hard and see what happens.”

Carson Gerber is a Kokomo Tribune reporter. He can be reached at 765-854-6739, or by email at carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com.

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