Spelling bee really went the distance

J.J. Finley's Minseok Bu emerged as the champ after contest went 19 rounds.

Published: Friday, January 29, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 10:42 p.m.

It took Minseok Bu, a fifth-grade student at J.J. Finley Elementary School, 19 rounds to eliminate 33 other students on Thursday to earn the title of Alachua County Spelling Bee champ.

The winning word: contiguous.

Minseok showed little emotion about taking home the top prize. The soft-spoken student shyly said he did not want to draw attention to himself.

"I only wanted to win at my school," he said after being congratulated by fellow spellers.

Minseok did admit to being a bit nervous about advancing to the regional competition.

Minseok's mother, Seongah Byeon, was excited enough for the two of them.

"I was really nervous, and it seemed so long," she said.

Parents, teachers, principals and students packed the boardroom at the Kirby-Smith Center to watch the competition, which included participants in grades 5 through 8.

Dawn Newell, organizer of the district spelling bee, said Thursday's competition included the most number of rounds she can remember in recent years.

"It was a long bee," Newell said. "And there are always surprises, but I was surprised by how well prepared the students were and how poised they were."

Newell agreed with many other adults in the audience that several words on the list of 300 would have been difficult for many adults to spell correctly.

Round seven of the bee started with only five students remaining, including one girl.

It was then that Sunny Baros-Kabler, 11, a fifth-grade student at Stephen Foster Elementary, misspelled maraca.

"I've been studying for the spelling bee since December," Sunny said. "And I remember the word I missed, but I did not really study it."

The next three rounds were completed without an elimination until round 12. The final two contestants, Minseok and Aman Kabeer from Oak Hall, squared off for the next six rounds.

The homonym mole, a highly spiced sauce made principally of chili and chocolate along with other ingredients and served with meat, proved a challenge for Aman to spell correctly.

"I feel great about coming in second. I just started studying two weeks ago," he said.

Aman's twin brother, Zain Kabeer, was the district spelling bee champion in 2008 and 2009. However, the near-victory still gave Aman bragging rights with his brother for a bit, and he's already looking ahead to the 2011 spelling bee.

As for the 2010 district championship, Minseok must prepare for the regional spelling bee in Jacksonville on Feb. 20. The winner of the competition goes on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May.

Contact Harriet Daniels at harriet.daniels@gvillesun.com or 338-3166.

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