By Laura Ann Tipps/Staff Writer
After being postponed at the end of the first round the week before, the Etowah County Spelling Bee resumed last Wednesday.
It took 79 rounds to declare a winner from 26 contestants, and 70 of those rounds were between just two spellers: Josh Kelley of Gadsden Middle School and Micah Blisard of Westbrook Christian Elementary.
“It was kind of exhausting and monotonous,” said Kelley, a seventh-grader.
Ultimately, after the boys spent hours spelling words like mynheer and schadenfreude, Kelley was the champion.
For the Kelley family, the spelling bee is not just a competition—it is a family affair.
Josh’s younger brother, fourth-grader Jacob Kelley, also made it to the county bee this year to represent Eura Brown Elementary, and sixth grade brother John competed against Josh in his school spelling bee. Older brother Justin, now in tenth grade, also excelled in the spelling bee when he was eligible; the cutoff is eighth grade.
“There hasn’t been a single spelling bee where I haven’t been up against a sibling, and my brothers are excellent spellers,” said Josh Kelley.
This year will mark Kelley’s third trip to the state spelling bee, having won the Etowah County bee twice before, and he is more motivated than ever to win.
“He really wants to go to Nationals at least once,” said Amy Kelley, Josh’s mom.
In addition to playing baseball, football, and basketball, Kelley sets up study schedules to help him learn the words in the spelling bee study guide.
The whole Kelley family pitches in to make sure Josh knows any word from the guide when he steps up to the microphone.
“If I could learn more roots and language of origin rules, that would help me when I come across an unfamiliar word,” said Kelley.
Kelley said his strategy at the microphone is simple: He makes sure he understands the word the pronouncer has given without asking too many questions and confusing himself.
“I don’t want to give myself too much time to reconsider if I feel like I know the word,” he said.
Second place winner Micah Blisard spells with the same succinct, confident assurance, but with a quicker style and fewer questions.
“When I’m practicing, I connect the tricky things about a word with something in my mind so I’ll immediately remember it later,” said Blisard, a sixth-grader who represented Westbrook Elementary for the third time this year.
Beth Blisard, Micah’s mom, says her son has one study method that seems to be as effective as it is unconventional: Computer games.
“He plays role-playing games, so he’s typing dialogue and working his character with one headphone on so he can hear me and spell the words I give him at the same time,” she said.
The more intense the game gets, the faster Blisard spells, she said. In addition to computer games and spelling bees, Blisard enjoys playing football and hunting with his dad.
Although coming in second place after 70 rounds of one-on-one competition was difficult for Blisard, the hero’s welcome he received at his school’s weekly chapel assembly helped to assuage his disappointment.
“I could tell something was going on, because everyone was acting suspicious, but I really liked all the banners and posters,” he said.
Also recognized was Joshua Buchi, who represented Westbrook Christian Middle School and placed third.
Westbrook hosted the spelling bee this year, and it was coordinated by Sandra Handley, the school’s Early Childhood Director.
“It was a pleasure to host these scholarly students, and everyone was so wonderful about coming together to help, especially in the face of the winter weather,” said Handley.
Catherine Martin, Marketing Manager of Exchange Bank of Gadsden, was also in attendance.
The bank is a spelling bee sponsor and provided trophies for Kelley, Blisard, and Buchi.
The spelling bee was officiated by judges Barry Bottoms, Larry Fuhrman, and Shelia Tudor, and pronouncer Laura Ann Tipps.
To prepare for the March 8 state bee, Kelley will continue to study words in the guide while also focusing on root words and language patterns—all with the help of his family.
“They’ve all just been so supportive, and I appreciate all they have done for me.”