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Snellville student county's top speller

HOSCHTON - Kayla Arnold didn't know what sanguine meant when she spelled it to win Gwinnett's countywide spelling bee Saturday. But the Snellville Middle School eighth-grader was certainly sanguine during the competition.

The word, which means marked by eager hopefulness or confidently optimistic, was the first of two - the second was bayonet - that Kayla spelled correctly in succession to take home the $200 top prize at the county level. She and 10 other students will advance to the district bee Feb. 25, where they will compete with students from 18 other school systems.

"I really don't know what to do with my hands right now," she said after her win. "I was nervous, but my dad and step-mom reassured me that I was going to win, going to make it."

Qualita Arnold said Kayla hadn't been spelling with her homework every night, but that she was a voracious reader. Kayla's advice to aspiring spellers: study, read, sound out your words, and don't mix up an f with a ph.

Kayla kept the audience in suspense when she spelled immunologic correctly, only to add an additional "al" at the end of the word. She and second-place finisher Tucker Fleming dueled for about 15 minutes, one of the longest head-to-head spelling competitions that caller Scott Slade said he had seen during a decade of calling bees.

Both were stumped by disafforest, asynchrony, bureaucracy, kaiserdom and mezzanine, but some equally difficult words made it through: Tucker correctly spelled catadromous, puree, tungsten and dissimilitude in the final round, while Kayla kept the competition going with ophthalmic, febricula, unappeasable and hoyle.

"A couple of words she spelled, I had no clue," Keith Arnold said.

After the competition, Tucker said he felt like he had gotten a load off his chest. The oral bee was not nearly as nerve-wracking as the written spelling test the county used to whittle a group of 31 spellers down to the top 11 finishers had been, he said. In the first part, spellers sat in the theater at Mill Creek High School two seats apart, silently writing more than 75 words from the 2006 list.

The highest score on the written test was 118 out of a possible 150, bee coordinator Cindy Gaskins said, but that score did not belong to Kayla or Tucker.

Gaskins said she expects at least one of the county's 11 spellers to advance to the state competition in March. From there, one state winner will be sent to the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., at the end of May.

Slade, the caller who is a morning host on WSB radio, said he likes the bee because it highlights academic achievement in a competitive way.

"While it's a shame that anyone has to lose, it's terrific practice for the real world," he said. "You have to work and work hard."

Jeff Fleming, Tucker's father, said that in an age of text messaging and Blackberry devices, it's nice to know that there's still an emphasis on the importance of spelling. He said he was "tickled to death" by his son's high finish.

Tucker, a seventh grader at Osborne Middle School who went home with $75 for placing second, didn't know what he was going to do to celebrate his success, but Kayla already had big plans.

"I'm going to go outside and scream first," she said, "then I'm going to go anywhere that serves ribs."

The following students received $25 and will advance to the District 3 Spelling Bee at Collins Hill High School Feb. 25 along with Kayla Arnold and Tucker Fleming:

•Naveed Khan, 5th grade, Kanoheda Elementary School

•Kristen Bussey, 8th grade, Osborne Middle School

•Akshaya Suresh, 7th grade, Crews Middle School

•Jeffrey Kim, 5th grade, Mason Elementary School

•D.J. Spotten, 8th grade, Five Forks Middle School

•Tatiarra Watts, 8th grade, Richards Middle School

•Emma Walker, 5th grade, Harbins Elementary School

•Sujith Cherukumilli, 5th grade, Chattahoochee Elementary School

•Peter Luu, 8th grade, Summerour Middle School