Fourteen-year-old Karrissa Zanett, a home-schooled student, walked up to a microphone facing a set of three judges on the performance hall stage at Glacier High School.
The competition went swiftly as 26 spellers from around the valley were whittled down to three by the sixth round.
Zanett would go head-to-head with Grace Anderson, 14, of Stillwater Christian School, for six more rounds as the title of Flathead County Spelling Bee champion hung in the balance.
“This is the potential championship word,” spelling bee pronouncer Nancy Kimball said. “So the word has a homonym. It is pampas. It’s a noun, a plural noun. And it means extensive, generally grass-covered plains of temperate South America east of the Andes.”
“P-a-m-p-a-s,” Zanett said, her head bobbing toward the microphone at each careful pronunciation of a letter. “Pampas.”
“We have a champion” Kimball said to audience applause.
Anderson placed second. Lacey Carmichael, 13, of Helena Flats School came in third.
All three spellers advance to the Treasure State Spelling Bee.
During the competition, Zanett said she tried to pace herself in spelling each word — neither speaking too fast or too slowly.
“I tend to second guess myself the more time I have to think, but if I go too fast I’ll say the wrong thing,” Zanett said.
Techniques that spellers may use to learn more about how a word is spelled is by asking for the definition, language of origin or having the word used in a sentence.
“Sometimes I ask different things to stall and think of different spellings of the word,” Anderson said.
Another technique some spellers used was tracing letters in the air. Carmichael used this tactic for every word during the competition noting that it’s harder to spell aloud versus writing it down.
“It’s very helpful. It helps me picture how a word is spelled,” Carmichael said.
Whether quizzed by family, taking tests online or studying word lists the three spellers have put in extra time to get this far.
Zanett said she has practiced spelling daily over the past year. To prepare for state she plans to focus on learning language of origin tips.
“So, it’s like say in German the “sh” sound is almost always spelled “s-c-h,” things like that,” Zanett said.
Anderson said she plans to study lists of commonly misspelled words while Carmichael said she will practice writing down words she misses during quizzes.
“I think spelling can be pretty important because when you learn how to spell it’s easier to get your message across in life,” Carmichael said.
The state spelling bee will be held March 17 at Rocky Mountain College in Billings.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.