CAMP VERDE - Somewhere in between a hearty breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes and an evening on stage in a Dr. Seuss-themed musical, 10-year-old Tanner Dodt of Prescott Valley competed in the 69th Annual Yavapai County Spelling Bee at the Phillip England Center for the Performing Arts in Camp Verde.
Thursday's spelling bee was Tanner's first such competition. Which he won. Despite nerves.
"My tummy was hurting at first," Tanner said. "Then my dad came up [on stage during the rehearsal] and I had a big smile on my face. It definitely gave me confidence when I got the winning word right."
It was close to two hours into the competition when Tanner successfully spelled the word precipice to finish in first place. Tanner "was very deliberate" as he spelled each word, said Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter.
"He was very confident, not something you see that often from a fifth grader," Carter said.
This year's spelling bee went eight rounds, with 42 participants being whittled down to 27, then 20, then 11 before a couple of runoff rounds moved the competition to its final two participants. Finishing second, Bagdad Elementary School sixth grader Naina Misra says she was "let down" that she didn't finish in first.
Sacred Heart Catholic School seventh grader William Hamada-Canez finished in third. By winning a multi-round runoff, Glassford Hill Middle School seventh grader Cassidy Leo finished in fourth.
Held at the multi-use building at Camp Verde elementary and middle schools, the competition included two students from Camp Verde schools and one student from nearby Beaver Creek School. Neither Camp Verde Elementary School fifth grader Jason McMahon-Fullmer nor Camp Verde Middle School eighth grader Logan Pratt passed the first-round cut. Beaver Creek School eighth grader Emily Worden made it to the second round.
Tanner will compete in the Arizona State Spelling Bee at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 21 at Arizona State University's KAET-TV station. The winner of the state competition will represent Arizona at the 88th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C.
In 1925, the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper conducted the country's first known spelling match of students in Kentucky grade schools. By 1929, 21 newspapers nationwide were sponsoring spelling bees.