For fifth grader Addison Davis of Old Kings Elementary, the hardest of the eight words she had to spell on her way to winning the Flagler County Spelling Bee Wednesday evening was in the third round. The word lived up to the way it made her feel, even though she had no idea what it meant: “eviscerated.”
Addison, 11, had just seen two more contestants fall at the beginning of round three, one to “affidavit,” the other to “cinnabar,” that obscure mineral even the judges likely couldn’t spell nor define. Diane Dyer, the district’s executive director of teaching and learning and the bee’s official pronouncer, then asked Addison if she was ready.
“Yes,” Addison said assertively.
Dyer gave her the word. Addison smartly asked for a definition, a tactic contestants often use to settle themselves and start spelling out the word in their head. Instead of giving a definition, Dyer mistakenly used the word in a sentence, but Addison didn’t contest: “The eruption from the volcano eviscerated the mountain and the crop fields surrounding it,” Dyer read from the official spelling bee crypt.
“Eviscerated?” Addison asked.
“Eviscerated,” Dyer said again.
“Eviscerated. E-V,” she paused five eternal seconds, “I,” another pause, “S,” a three-second pause, then the clincher, “C” (it was all downhill from there), “E-R-A-T-E-D, eviscerated.”
“That’s correct,” Karen Porter, the bee’s coordinator and one of the judges said, to Addison’s big sigh, echoed in the second row in an audience of some 60 people by her parents: her father, Josh Davis, a former assistant state prosecutor and a current defense lawyer, knew the word inside and out, having often practiced it on others and having it had practiced on him by others, and from the looks of it even before the contest began he’d come in half eviscerated as it was, from nervousness of watching his daughter up against 15 other contestants. But he knew she was home-free after crossing the word’s “s-c” Rubicon. He just didn’t know she’d make it all the way to the trophy.
After making her way through “pronto,” “vocational,” “eviscerated,” “tattle,” “nosiest,” “harmonica,” and “pretzel,” through seven rounds and 42 words in all, there she was, coming back up to the mic for the championship and final word.
Others had fallen on such words as “damask,” “apprehend,” “emaciated,” Caribbean,” “courteous” and “hearth.” Belle Terre Elementary sixth grader Chevaney Chandradat had kept up with Addison through words like “”suffocate,” “reprimand,” “concertina” and “gnat.” But in round seven, she stumbled on “nostril,” going with an “e” instead of an “i.”
After that Addison spelled “pretzel” correctly. She had asked if Dyer meant the food, eliciting the only laughter of the night. (The National Scripps Spelling bee rules are strict but say nothing about forbidding audience participation, though judges usually require audiences to hold their applause until the end of all rounds, making for unnecessarily dour contests.)
Dyer then spoke the final word: “renovate.”
“Renovate?” Addison needed no pause this time. “R-E-N-O-V-A-T-E, renovate.”
She had won. The crowd in the Wadsworth Elementary cafeteria could finally erupt (keeping in line with that eviscerating metaphor earlier) in applause.
Addison’s father held his head in his hands, weeping. Her mother, Lesley and Addison’s 8-year-old sister Macey were jubilant. “I feel like I lost, like, six lives,” her father said moments later.
Addison was d-i-s-b-e-l-i-e-v-i-n-g. “I was like, OK, I need to practice, I’m going to freak out and end up losing,” she recalled of her times practicing with her mother. She had done so only a few times starting four days before the contest. “I did not do it very often, which I’m kind of upset. It’s not really fair. Probably the other kids practiced a lot.” (Her father saw it differently: she put in a lot of work, worked extra hard.”)
When Addison won, the back of her hand went to her mouth and stayed there for a while as she looked at the audience, the ceiling, Dyer: she didn’t seem certain of what had just happened. She explained afterward: “I was so, so, so surprised,” she said. “I was like, what? I don’t know half of the words that they gave me, and I still managed to do it. I was so surprised.” She couldn’t even remember several of the words she’d had to conquer.
Outside of school, Addison likes to read (Harry Potter, among others) and dance: she’d actually just come from her class at Flagler School of Dance. Next for her is the mid-February regional contest at the 75th Annual First Coast Regional Spelling Bee at Jacksonville University, on Feb. 19 in Jacksonville.
It’ll be another trial for her parents. “I think they should put a warning out for the parents on just how nerve-wracking it is to watch them stand up and do this. I had no idea,” Lesley Davis said. But first order of business Wednesday after the victory was dinner, Addison’s choice: Outback.
[Please refer all misspellings in this story to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Homeland Security division.]
The contestants who each won their school’s spelling bee and competed countywide Wednesday:
Marlon Alvarado, fifth grade, Wadsworth Elementary
Chevaney Chandradat, sixt grade, Belle Terre Elementary
Brenna Cowart Goldberg, fifth grade, Rymfire Elementary
Addison Davis, fifth grade, Old Kings Elementary
Isabella Densmore, sixth grade, Wadsworth Elementary
Angel Hicks, eighth grade, Christ the King Academy
Ayden Jones, seventh grade, Indian Trails Middle
Jaiya Jordan, sixth grade, Bunnell Elementary
Sidney Morton, eighth grade, Buddy Taylor Middle
Keylee Nevico, seventh grade, Buddy Taylor Middle
Chase Pregley, sixth grade, Old Kings Elementary
Hemawatie Ragnauth, eighth grade, Indian Trails Middle
Alec Riley, fifth grade, Belle Terre Elementary
Nigel Sejda, fifth grade, Bunnell Elementary
Joshua Stover, sixth grade, Rymfire Elementary
Kenny Sugden, sixth grade, Christ the King Academy
The judges were Science and Curriculum Specialist Heidi Alves, Data Quality Coordinator Louise Bossardet, and Rymfire Principal Lashakia Moore, along with Karen Porter, who coordinated the spelling bee.