Minden speller sails her way to victory | RecordCourier.com

Minden speller sails her way to victory

by Scott Neuffer
sneuffer@recordcourier.com

The difference between a showing of remorse and a small sailing vessel was the difference between champion and runner-up at the Douglas County School District’s sixth-grade spelling bee on Jan. 19.

“It feels good, but I was really nervous,” a shy Sophia Cui said after winning the contest, friends swarming her from every side.

In the final round of competition, the 11-year-old Minden Elementary School student correctly spelled “schooner,” pronouncing each letter decisively, and clinching the district title by repeating the word a second time.

“Mr. Davis is my music teacher, and we once had a song about a whale and a schooner,” Sophia explained to an amazed audience. “That’s how I knew it.”

Mother Linda Cui was impressed by her daughter’s performance under pressure.

“I didn’t know she was so good at it, but she does like to read books. Whenever she has time, she is reading,” Linda said. “I’m very proud of her. I’m also very thankful for her teacher at the school. She does a wonderful job.”

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That teacher, Ashley Hogan, wasn’t surprised that Sophia won.

“Not at all. She works on her own. I don’t have to push her, although I did push her a little this morning to practice,” Hogan said. “Sophia is not only very intelligent, she is very well-rounded.”

Sophia’s victory was by no means easy. Twenty-one students from seven elementary schools started out round 1 with words like “mustard” and “gossip,” losing only one participant to a misspelling of “blissful.” The difficulty of the words increased with each round, and tricky words like “marshmallow” and “reckon” gradually narrowed the field.

By round 6, only four students remained on stage.

Eli Romero of Pinon Hills Elementary missed the suffix of “laborious” and didn’t move on with the others.

Sydney Clark of Scarselli Elementary made it through round 7, but was eliminated in round 8 for a mistake in “replete.”

It was soon down to Sophia and a steadfast speller by the name of Ian Ozolins, who hailed from Gardnerville Elementary School. Because the champion had to spell two words in a row correctly, a dramatic back-and-forth ensued.

Ian nailed “microphone” in round 10, while Sophia missed “damageable.” Ian, however, missed a chance to finish first by misspelling “vegetarian.”

In round 12, Ian missed “fajitas,” and Sophia nailed “animation.” But she, too, missed her follow-up word “impel” by adding an extra “e.”

In the final round between them, 14 rounds from the beginning, Ian misspelled the ending of “remorseful.” Sophia, true to her style, promptly spelled out “punctual.”

Finding herself alone in round 15, Sophia was asked to spell “schooner,” and she didn’t disappoint.

“My face is getting hot,” she said, moments after MES Principal Ken Stoll declared her queen of the spelling bee.

The humble champion, a little bewildered by her own success, wasn’t sure about venturing to Las Vegas this spring for the state spelling bee.

“I’m too nervous to remember all the words,” she said.