Fourth-grader Thuy Nguyen studied hard to be the top speller at Wagner Holt Elementary School in north Stockton.
Nguyen, 9, tested her spelling skills against more than two dozen students from across San Joaquin County at the fifth annual countywide spelling bee Wednesday.
Though Nguyen could barely reach the podium to write down words she was asked to spell, the youth lasted to the fifth round against many older competitors.
"I did kind of good," the soft-spoken girl said after the contest.
She was eliminated after misspelling "dichotomy," which means a division into two parts or groups.
A handful of local students also vied for recognition as one of San Joaquin County's top spellers before a standing-room-only crowd of parents, teachers and school administrators.
Event coordinator Meredith Davis said Wednesday's contest was one of the county Office of Education's largest spelling bees.
Nearly 60 students competed in two divisions - fourth- to sixth-grade and seventh- to ninth-grade. Schools held local spelling contests to select their top spellers to send to the countywide championship.
Vinewood Elementary School sixth-grader Lee Kraljev held out until the sixth round, where students faced difficult words like schizophrenia, caricature, vociferous and rotisserie. The field of students quickly thinned to only a handful.
Kraljev's mother, Laurie, said she was proud her daughter made it that far. "I was the worst speller in school, so for my daughter to go to the spelling bee is great," she said.
Jessica Smith, a Lockeford student, was eliminated in the eighth round after her attempt at spelling "spaghetti" in the lengthy contest.
The contest came down to Darrah Borrego, a sixth-grader at St. Luke's Catholic School, and David Cushman, a fourth-grader from Manteca's Sequoia Elementary School. After a series of misspellings, Borrego took first place with "sombrero."
In the middle school division, Cole Doby of Woodbridge Middle School competed into the fourth round where he was defeated by "sarcophagus." Doby was one of three remaining students.
Seventh-grader Brianna Bettencourt placed first in the division while Eddie Marshall, an eighth-grader, finished second. Both students attend Nile Garden Elementary School in Manteca.
The winners received savings bonds and plaques and will advance to the state Spelling Championship, held May 4 at Sonoma State University.
Local elementary school competitors included: Ian Ike Timbreza of Clairmont; James Joel Grant of Delta Christian Academy; Jessica Smith and Remy du Celliee Muller, a team from Houston, Victor and Lockeford; Geliane Supe of New Hope; Alec Martin of Oak View; and Kelsey Skaggs of Reese.
Several middle school students also competed Wednesday. They included Amber Percival of Lodi Middle; Chelsea Cutaran of Mokelumne River School; Rebeca Gallo of New Hope; and Dazier Madle of Oak View.
Nguyen said she wasn't disheartened at the results of her first county level contest. She plans to study even harder next year.
"I'll try," she said.
Teacher Karl Fechner praised Nguyen's accomplishment.
"She got into the fifth round," Fechner said. "And I'm not sure if there were any other fourth-graders. She did good."
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