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Spellers battle in war of words

OrlPark resident Logan Harris 9 looks up as he attempts move next round during 34th Annual OrlOpen Spelling Bee Presbyterian

Orland Park resident Logan Harris, 9, looks up as he attempts to move on to the next round during the 34th Annual Orland Open Spelling Bee at the Presbyterian Church Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, at 13401 S. Wolf Rd. in Orland Park. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 23, 2012 6:17AM



It was a “dynamite” “occasion,” one that did indeed “resonate” with all ages — to use a few words that popped up in the Orland Park spelling bee.

While the 100 participants shrugged, frowned and pumped their fists, none was “cantankerous.”

In the eyes of their family and friends, each contestant left a winner if not a “genius.”

The 34th annual Orland Open Spelling Bee, at the Presbyterian Church filled a “gorgeous” Sunday afternoon with enough vocabulary words to stumble even the most “loquacious.”

It started out with monosyllabic words for those younger than 10, but then progressed into those tricky ones with silent and double letters.

“What’s a cribbage?” one young speller said.

Another struggled to repeat the caller’s pronunciation of “fascism.”

Even an adult was done in by “assassination.”

“I hope he doesn’t lose on the first round,” Rick Peretz, one of many nervous parents, said as he watched his son Paul, 11, step up to the microphone. Paul was hoping to take first, like his older brother once did, but tripped up over “neutral.”

“Aww, that’s a hard word,” Peretz said.

All was not “copacetic” as even the judges realized there were two acceptable spellings for the same word.

Still in all, it was a day of family fun.

Joan Linnane said her young grandson Brian Gilhooly only agreed to enter the spelling bee if she did. It was the first time for both.

Brian lasted a few rounds in the 10-and-younger age group but could not spit out “lettuce.” His grandma was eliminated over a “parapet” in the first round once the adults got into the act.

“It was very fun,” Brian said. “I like spelling.”

Both agreed they might come back next year. After nearly three hours and numerous rounds, it took a “temblor” to bring it to an end as two finalists battled over 20 words before a victor could be declared.

For a while, it seemed as though the callers were trying to “obfuscate” the contestants.

Tom Doyle, a retired teacher and principal in the Chicago Public Schools system, prevailed over Jill Olson, a school secretary in Orland School District 135.

And even though they both said they studied the dictionary before the contest, they admitted that the last round of words were “foreign” to them.

In the end, it was more like a guessing game than a spelling bee.

“If she missed it, I just tried something different,” Doyle said of his last-minute strategy.

“I enjoy competition, especially with words and vocabulary,” he said.

Kids today are losing their spelling skills, because they rely too much on the spell check feature on their computers and don’t learn phonetically, like he did, he said. “I never heard of any of those words,” Olson said. She has participated in previous years and bested her sixth-place finish last year.

“I really enjoy it, but I get so nervous,” she said. “Now I need a nap.”

Contest founder Bill Smith said, “This is more about vocabulary. To spell, you have to know the word.”

Smith, a former Alsip School District 126 superintendent, borrowed the idea from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book, “Little Town on the Prairie,” in which Pa and Laura finished first and third, respectively, in an all-town spelling bee in 1882.

Shiny trophies were provided to the top three spellers in various age groups — a “highfalutin” event indeed.



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