Student spells his way to Colorado
January 31, 2007
What word best describes ‘an act or habit of valuing something as worthless’? One word that comes to mind is floccinaucinahiliphilification or at least to the mind of spelling bee champion Brett Armstrong, who has it in his arsenal of words he owns.
Armstrong, a seventh-grade student at the Park City Academy, was recently the overall winner of the Association of Christian Schools International Spelling Bee. To most people of all ages, spelling is best left to spell check To Armstrong, spelling is something he has always been able to do, and after seeing a word once or twice, he remembers it.
But there is more to spelling than memorization. Armstrong said that the derivation of the word’s language gives him strong clues to the word’s spelling. He considers the prefix beginning the word, and the suffix, ending the word, and sometimes it is a matter of just plugging in patterns he already knows. Usually a word has a similar word that is spelled with the same rules. If you can spell one of those words, you can likely spell the other. And there is also practice. A lot of practice. Armstrong said he typically spends two to three hours a day studying words. He has a Webster’s unabridged dictionary which not only builds the mind, but builds muscle hefting it for the sake of an obscure word that spell check likely doesn’t know, and will unabashedly claim he misspelled.
Armstrong competed against 14 other spellers from around the state, and ended up with a first-place finish for fifth through eighth graders, and a second place finish for seventh-grade students. He and three other Utahans will be flown to Littleton, Colorado, for the Western Region finals on Feb. 28. The winner of that competition moves on to the nationals, where the grand prize is a $50,000 scholarship.
This is Armstrong’s second year at the Park City Academy, which he describes as "cool." He said he likes their teaching system. Jeanne Hunter, the director of admissions and marketing, said of Armstrong, "he’s awesome."
If Armstrong isn’t analyzing words, he is likely studying his favorite subjects of science, literature, language and the arts, and with little surprise, says he can knock off a 6,000-word book in about a week and a half. He said he loves to read. His parents used to read him a story every night before bed. His father, an entertainment attorney, used to read him an occasional legal brief.
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Armstrong doesn’t spend all his time spelling. He plays piano, liking Beethoven well enough, but seeming to prefer more modern composers like Chris Martin of Cold Play. He volunteers weekly as a peer partner skier at the National Abilities Center, and likes outdoor activities.
Armstrong hopes to become a pilot in the Air Force. He can visualize this. He allows himself to visualize correct answers for the words he is spelling in competition.
Recently Armstrong visualized in a dream, holding a paper declaring he had won the national spelling bee in one hand, and the first place-trophy held in the other.