It's been quite a "spell" for the Huber Family of Vernal. They're on their way to Washington, D.C. - again.
Friday, Erin Huber became the third daughter in the family to become Utah's spelling champion. Her sisters, Tara and Colleen, were champs in 1988 and 1989 respectively, setting the pace for the 1991 Deseret News Spelling Bee winner. Erin will represent Utah in the national spell-off May 27-31 in Washington.Erin lasted through 24 rounds of words - including such rarities as "vernissage," "meshummad," "unctuosity," "weltpolitik," "seiche" and "miniaceous" - to capture the crown. She is 12 years old and a sixth-grader in Vernal Middle School.
Her father, Victor, wasn't surprised when his third spelling whiz made the grade. "She's very coachable," he said. Huber and his wife, Karen, have spent countless hours drilling their daughters. Huber estimated Erin had spent about 2,000 hours studying en route to the championship.
Erin was one of 42 spellers from across the state who began Friday morning's bee, held in Bryant Intermediate School. Despite a temporary problem with the sound system in the school and the periodic interruption of bells announcing the ends of periods, spellers had a memorable experience.
Runner-up Daniel Briggs, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Neal Briggs, Syracuse, is only a fifth-grader and vows to be back next year. When he got down to the final rounds, he called for a short break. Asked what he needed - a drink, a quick bathroom stop - he responded, "I need the Red Cross."
Despite his qualms, he sailed through one round, spelling "brochette" correctly, then slipped up on "tauromachy." Erin picked it up correctly and then spelled "kielbasa" to clinch her win.
Louisa Bennion of North Sanpete Middle School won third place, being eliminated when "unctuosity" reared its ugly head. The three finalists went through six rounds and more than two and a half hours of spelling before the field was narrowed to two.
Others honored by the newspaper as being among the top six were Danny Ericksen, Butler Middle School, fourth; Erica Matsumori, Mount Jordan Middle School, fifth; and Kimberly Stookey, Grantsville Middle, sixth. They received reference works.
The contest generated several close calls for judges Jean Duncan, Salt Lake School District; Steve Hale, Utah Education Association; and Brent Westergard, Granite School District. They had to replay official tape recordings several times to be certain they ruled fairly.
One word, "stabilimeter," was chucked when judges and the word pronouncer, Douglas Sykes of the Bryant Intermediate staff, couldn't agree on its pronunciation.
Spellers fell like flies in the early rounds, but the staying power of the real experts became apparent as the rounds ticked past. A short break at the end of Round 2 found many of the spellers in the audience with their families and their spelling books, boning up for what was coming.
Matt Seegmiller, Piute District's representative, who weathered nine rounds, didn't have enough cram time, however, to get past "semolina." The boy, like all of the district winners, spent the past three weeks going over and over the approved word list, said his father, Gary Seegmiller.
The most frequent errors involved supplying an incorrect vowel. Debating whether a letter should be doubled in a particular word caused trouble for some spellers, and there was the inevitable "able/ible" problem.
Spellers had a variety of styles from the three-minute-please-repeat mode to the slap-dash-whip-it-out-and-let-the-letters-fall-where-they-may approach. Some who just couldn't put their finger on a word put their finger out in space, spelling into thin air.
For all Friday's spellers, however, the state bee was the culmination of an activity in which they had prevailed at school and district levels.