Mill Creek student wins spelling bee

Catawba County Schools' spelling bee was finished in near record time, and there was a little controversy involved before the Maiden High School auditorium.

Mill Creek Middle School eighth-grader Savannah Clay correctly spelled "auditorium" and then "controversy," to claim the school system's spelling championship. She'll now advance to the regional competition in Charlotte on Feb. 20.

Clay defeated first runner-up Snow Creek Elementary student Catherine McMahan, who missed the correct spelling for "flouride."

The competition was completed in less than an hour, said CCS Spelling Bee Coordinator Martha Lamb.

"The spelling bee began at 10 a.m. and by 10:45 a.m. they were done, and that included the practice round and everything," she said. "About 50 percent of them went out the first round."

Lamb said there is no "norm" for the duration of the spelling bees, and some years the final two competitors can be engaged in a round-after-round spell-off.

"It depends somewhat on the luck of the words," she added. "The words this year were hard. We use words from the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee folks. They send us a booklet and our pronouncer goes through and eliminates some homonyms and words that may trip the kids up, but other than that we have to go with what we got."

Twenty-one spellers from each of the county's elementary and middle schools competed in Thursday's event at Maiden High School. Competitors won classroom bees and school-ide bees before advancing to the system-wide level of competition.

"I think this is a chance for the students who shine academically to be competitive and be recognized," Lamb said. "So often our students who are athletes get recognized and awards. This is one competition that is academic and we, as a school system, take pride in academics."

The spelling bee champion, Clay, received a 4100 savings bond from BB&T, while the runner-up, McMahan, received a $50 savings bond.

After the bee, spellers and the audience, which included family members and school principals, enjoyed a reception catered by Maiden High's culinary arts program.