AP NEWS

West Noble eighth-grader takes top spot at regional spelling bee

March 9, 2019

Grant Flora and Riley White were the only competitors remaining Saturday after the first 23 rounds of the 65th annual Journal Gazette Regional Spelling Bee presented by STAR Financial Bank.

The two eighth-graders battled for 22 more rounds : with each having multiple chances to win : before Flora finally nailed it by correctly spelling “cuisinier,” a French word meaning cook or chef.

Afterward, Flora confessed that he’d never encountered the word before being asked to spell it more than 2 1/2 hours into the competition. But he was familiar with the word “cuisine,” and he knew that many French words end in ”-ier.”

“So I was able to put it together and try it,” he said.

The 14-year-old’s parents, Mike and Jennifer Flora, are a little in awe of their son’s spelling prowess, which was on display in Rhinehart Music Center on the Purdue University Fort Wayne campus. The couple, who both teach fourth grade, consider themselves good spellers but not on Grant’s level.

Among the words he spelled correctly on his way to the title were: “ambient,” “coalition,” “legalese” and “inconsiderate.”

White was knocked out of the competition after incorrectly spelling “chaplain.” But before she stumbled in the 44th round, White correctly spelled words including “kilroy,” “placebo,” “ascending” and “valence.”

Although the words given to spellers are read in order from a list provided by the Scripps National Spelling Bee organization, local judges are allowed to skip over relatively easier options to select something more difficult for what is expected to be the championship word.

The result Saturday was some real head-scratchers, including “cannellini,” “kokanee” and three other words a reporter couldn’t correctly identify even with the help of a computer and an online dictionary. 

After receiving congratulations and posing for family photos, Flora recalled what was going through his mind during the back and forth with White.

“When is this going to end?” he said. “When is someone going to get a word that’s tough but they just know from somewhere?”

Flora, who loves math and runs cross country and track, has been studying lists of words daily : before, during and after school.

“We knew he was well-prepared, but we didn’t know what the competition was like,” Mike Flora said.

White, who finished second of 15 competitors from northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio, studied about an hour a day during the unofficial spelling bee season, which begins in November when schools distribute word lists.

Her mother, Patches White, quizzed her daily.

“And she typed them out over and over,” Patches White said of the 13-year-old. “She was very determined.”

Riley White has competed in the regional spelling contest three times and was named champion of her elementary and middle schools five times. To make it to the regional level this year, after White won DeKalb Middle School’s contest, she had to beat her younger brother, Ryan, a sixth-grader who won his elementary school bee.

Flora, who attends West Noble Middle School, has competed three of the last four years. When he was a seventh-grader, he forgot to register before the contest’s deadline.

Flora’s prizes include an all-expenses-paid trip for him and a parent to Washington, D.C., to compete in the 92nd Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee. This will be his first trip to the nation’s capital.

sslater@jg.net