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A pair of Piatt County eighth graders who barely missed advancing out of last year's Piatt County Spelling Bee made sure that did not happen this year.
Riley Combes, a Monticello Middle School eighth grader, took on 24 others and came out on top in this year's bee, held Feb. 16 at the middle school.
Shalie Taylor, an eighth grade student at Atwood-Hammond Elementary School, finished second. The pair now advance to the regional spelling bee at 9 a.m. Saturday, March 18 at Decatur Eisenhower High School.
Taylor took third place last year, just ahead of Combes in fourth, both placing just outside the qualifying mark to advance.
Both said they prepared hard for the Piatt County bee, but Combes admits it also takes a little luck.
“I just practiced like I did last year, and I got the words I knew how to spell,” said Combes. “I knew the ones I got, but maybe didn't know some of the ones others got.”
Like “laburnums,” a first round word that had most of the competitors giving quizzical looks.
Macon-Piatt County Regional School Superintendent Matt Snyder said the level of difficulty began to increase after the Macon County spelling bee ran out of words during a marathon session a few years ago.
“They were difficult words right from the beginning,” said Snyder of this year's list.
That knocked the pool of competitors from 25 to 16 after one round, and it was down to Combes and Taylor after four rounds. The finalists then battled it out for nine additional rounds until Taylor faltered on “fiend.” Combes then spelled “dearth” to earn the championship.
In between rounds four and 14, words the pair spelled correctly included cotswold, aspidistra, ebullience, and supererogation.
Both appear to be natural spellers, not dedicating any certain amount of time to reviewing word lists.
“It's just whenever I had free time. I just studied when I had free time,” said Taylor.
Spelling bee participants by school were:
Atwood-Hammond Elementary – Mitaku Appleby, Jayce Parsons, Molly Appleby, Andrea Dehart, Shalie Taylor
Bement Grade School – Gabrielle Block, Caroline Hill
Bement Middle School – Jariah Adamson, Addie Fritz, Victoria Vandivier
Cerro Gordo Elementary School – Brenden Puckett, Dylan Howell, Kiley Brunner
Cerro Gordo Junior High School – Serena Throneburg, Nicole Sullivan
DeLand-Weldon schools – Savana Karnes, Jackson Dunn, Cydney Shofner, Hadley Lappin, Noah Danison
Monticello Washington Elementary School – Mae Knittle, Wyatt Vaughan
Monticello Middle School – Drew Sheppard, Sophie Happ, Riley Combes