Stupendous spellers: Three Rocklin finalists advance to Central Valley bee

18 will compete in Placer County Bee
By: Teresa O'Hanlon, Placer Herald correspondent
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Know and go

California Central Valley Spelling Bee

When: 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 6

Where: Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento


Placer County Spelling Bee

When: 9 a.m. Wednesday, March 13

Where: PCOE Annex, Nobili Room, 365 Nevada St., Auburn


Students advancing to Placer County Bee

Granite Oaks Middle School

Matthew Aquino (seventh grade)

Calvin Kwok (seventh grade)

Brian Lee (seventh grade)

Steven Abramowitz (eighth grade)

Clayton Barnack (eighth grade)

Karl Danielsen (eighth grade)


Rocklin Elementary

Marcus Matsubayashi (fifth grade)

Mridini Vijay (fifth grade)

Tamsen Dean (sixth grade)

Taylor Eng (sixth grade)


Spring View Middle School

Xzavier Caldwell (seventh grade)

Andrea Estrada (eighth grade)

Shelby Johnson (eighth grade)


Ruhkala Elementary

Aravind Sharma (sixth grade)


Sunset Ranch Elementary

Alyssa Koh (fourth grade)

Keri Chen (sixth grade)

Kayla Hung (sixth grade)


Valley View Elementary

Max Miller (sixth grade)

Guetapens. The French-derived noun meaning a snare or trap proved to be the winning word at last year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee. More than a million TV viewers clicked over to ESPN to watch the internationally broadcast competition, where power spellers eighth grade and younger broke down the big words for big prizes and the title of world’s greatest speller.

Three Rocklin students have their eyes on a ticket to this year’s national spelling bee, but first they must win a regional contest. After becoming spelling champions of their own schools and passing the rigorous Sacramento Bee written exam, the three Rocklin finalists will now spell for the top spot at the March 6 California Central Valley Bee in Sacramento to qualify for round one at Scripps.

The youngest Rocklin competitor, Ethan Chan, 10, a fifth-grader from Rocklin Academy, has found new meaning in Merriam-Webster and on-line word tools.

“I probably have learned about 2,000 new words,” Chan said. “The most difficult words to memorize are Italian, German and Dutch. I usually study about half an hour a day, but it will probably increase as the bee comes closer.”

The most challenging word Chan has memorized to date is the Dutch noun bobbejaan, which means baboon.

Finalist and Granite Oaks Middle School eighth-grader Clayton Barnack is a visual learner. Barnack studies by reading the words, breaking them down and following spelling rules.

“Spelling comes pretty naturally,” the 14-year-old shared. “If I see a word and I can familiarize myself with it – and I know it. I’ve been building on my spelling ability for a few years, trying to get into other spelling bees. I study simply by looking at the word lists and spelling rules by myself.”

While doubling a final consonant before a suffix and using I before E except after C seems easy enough, today’s spellers have more on their minds. Whether they feel stupendous or stumped after hearing their spelling word, superlative spellers identify root words, determine the language of origin and pepper the judges with questions such as how a word is used in a sentence.

Eighth-grade finalist Henry Low of Western Sierra Collegiate Academy won his class spelling bee three times and knows following contest rules is just as important as spelling correctly. During one contest he forgot to repeat the spelling word and was disqualified.

“Ever since then I have remembered to say the word before and after I spell the word,” added Low, 14, who admitted to mixing spelling practice with video gaming. “I am one of those kids who just cannot read the words for hours and hours. I have to be doing something else while I am memorizing words. I have actually played video games while I am memorizing the words. This way I don’t get bored.”

A number of Rocklin students are also vying for state recognition in spelling. On March, the 25th annual Placer County Spelling Bee will take place at the Placer County Office of Education, where 18 Rocklin finalists will compete orally for a chance to participate at the California State Spelling Bee. More than 100 Placer County students in grades four through eight will represent 44 schools at the competition.

As Barnack looks forward to representing Granite Oaks Middle School at both bees, he is thankful for tips he has received along the way.

“Once you know all the rules and procedures, you can focus just on spelling the words correctly,” Barnack explained. “I’d like to thank my friend Steven (or Stevo). He made it here last year and has been encouraging me to succeed.”