Sydney Byrne, left, Paige Connery and Malina Cannon place first, third and second, respectively, in the second- and third-grade competition. Christopher
Sydney Byrne, left, Paige Connery and Malina Cannon place first, third and second, respectively, in the second- and third-grade competition. Christopher Reeves/Park Record.
In the digital era of spellcheck and Google, it is easy to make sure words are spelled correctly. However, The Park Record encourages students to improve their literacy and learn how to spell words on their own. Students throughout Summit and Wasatch Counties were invited to take a qualifying test in April, and finalists competed at 8th Annual Park Record Spelling Bee at the Egyptian Theatre Tuesday, May 13, to prove that they didn't need electronic assistance.

Second-grader Beckley Palmer attends Trailside Elementary, and it was her first year competing in the Bee. Her mother, Mary, said they prepared by going over the 480-word list all week and by watching "Akeelah and the Bee" on Netflix.

Arjun Chandra, left, Maddie Kaufman Schiller and Savannah Gordon place thirds, second and first, respectively, in the fourth- and fifth-grade competition.
Arjun Chandra, left, Maddie Kaufman Schiller and Savannah Gordon place thirds, second and first, respectively, in the fourth- and fifth-grade competition. Christopher Reeves/Park Record.

"I was so excited when she said she wanted to be in the Spelling Bee, but I wasn't surprised," Mary said. "She's always been a fantastic speller, so I feel like she has already won just being here. Whatever happens is great."

Beckley ended up successfully making it through the first two rounds by spelling "keyhole" and "manor" but lost out in the third round after misspelling "simplicity."

It was second-grader Sydney rne from the Weilenmann School of Discovery who ended up winning the second- and third-grade competition by correctly spelling the words "nefarious" and "recession." Malina Cannon from South Summit Elementary School placed second and Paige Connery from Park City Day School came in third.


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As soon as Byrne was named the winner, she walked over to Cannon to let her know what a great job she thought her competition had done.

Tricia Byrne, Sydney's mother, said she was nervous for her daughter after every word on the 480-word list had been spelled out by the students. The last round was filled with words the students had never studied before, so when "nefarious" was announced, Cannon spelled it "nepharious" instead.

Trinity Nirenberg, left, Sam Macuga and Nicolai Wacht place third, second and first, respectively, in the sixth- and seventh-grade competition. Christopher
Trinity Nirenberg, left, Sam Macuga and Nicolai Wacht place third, second and first, respectively, in the sixth- and seventh-grade competition. Christopher Reeves/Park Record.

"I thought it might have been the 'ph' that she got wrong, so I tried an 'f' instead even though I had no idea how to spell it and it worked," Sydney said.

She correctly spelled words like "prevalent," "capitalization" and "defunct" before finding herself in the last round with Cannon.

Tricia said it was Sydney's first time in the Spelling Bee, and she did it because she knew she would have a lot of fun. The second-grader said she hopes to turn her love of words into a career as an author or "song artist."

The fourth- and fifth-grade Spelling Bee immediately followed Byrne's victory, and 28 students competed. Words like "genealogy," "tuberculosis" and "peccadillo" knocked out 26 of the contestants, leaving Savannah Gordon and Maddie Kaufman Schiller to duke it out in the final round.

Schiller correctly spelled "quadratic" and "recalcitrant," but misspelled "stalagmite." Gordon then spelled it correctly and spelled out "aquamarine" to win the competition. She attends the Weilenmann School of Discovery while Schiller is a student at Parley's Park Elementary. Arjun Chandra, also a student at Parley's Park, placed third.

Gordon's mother said her daughter has Asperger's, a mild form of autism, and is a Davidson Young Scholar. The nonprofit group provides free services for "profoundly gifted young people" in the 99.9th IQ percentile and has provided a lot of support for Gordon.

"This is her second Spelling Bee, and she was out in about the third round last year," Gordon said. "We went over a few of the boxes of words with her this year, and she just read them when she felt like it. She loves words, though, and she's a real wordsmith."

Gordon proudly said her daughter knew her letters at 17 months as Savannah tugged on her sleeve asking if they could celebrate with candy, ice cream and soda. Gordon caved in and said they could.

"I decided that if at first you don't succeed, try, try again," Savannah said, smiling from ear to ear.

The 21 sixth- and seventh-grade students then filed into the theater to compete in the last of the three divisions. The word list included several that stumped contestants, including "grievance," "hypotenuse" and "myopia." Nicolai Wacht and Sam Macuga were the last two students standing.

When Macuga misspelled "camouflage," Wacht spelled it correctly and then spelled "dachshund" to win the competition. Wacht is a sixth-grader at Ecker Hill Middle School as well as Macuga. Trinity Nirenberg from North Summit Middle School placed third.

Wacht's mother, Jamie, said this was her son's fourth Spelling Bee and the third time he had won. They practice every day the week leading up to the competition and circle any words that Nicolai has trouble with.

"First, I make sure he can pronounce all the words so he has a visual when he hears them," Jamie said. "We mostly concentrate on any words that are circled or have a dot next to them, and his uncle comes and helps us the day of the Bee."

Jamie said her son usually walks around while spelling out the words, so having to stand still on stage during the competition is something he has to get used to. Nevertheless, Nicolai said he has a lot of fun at the Spelling Bee and has one more year to compete.

"I'm really good at spelling, and Language Arts is my favorite subject. So it's fun for me," he said. "I really don't know what I'll do with it later in life yet. I just like it."

The Park Record has been the Spelling Bee's title sponsor for eight years. Organizers include Tania Knauer, Julie Glusker, Amy Fehlberg and Dr. Sandra Van Leuven. Glusker, Fehlberg and Leslie Thatcher served as emcees, while Fehlberg, Van Leuven, Fehlberg, Glusker, Louise Willoughby, Douglas Hardy and Ellie Burton served as judges. School and district organizers include Maggie AbuHaidar, Susan Beasom, Destinne Blonquist, Traci Evans, Pam Garringer, Tess Miner-Farra, Traci Sheinberg, Shelley Tuner, Hardy, Van Leuven and Willoughby.