Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan
Lexine Feng, 9, of Duluth spells out a word during the first round of the State Spelling Bee competition at Georgia State University in Atlanta on Friday. Feng, who is home schooled, placed third in the state. Kelsey Dabrowski, left, 14, of Lilburn and Berkmar Middle School also competed.
ATLANTA — Elite word ninjas battled it out Friday, enunciating their way through consonants, vowels and the occasional silent letter.
Despite countless hours of cramming, reading and training, few spellers were a match for the little girl from Duluth. Lexine Feng, a homeschooler, was one of only two 9-year-olds competing for the state’s top spelling bee crown, and she held her own through 14 rounds.
She and fellow Gwinnettian Kelsey Dabrowski of Berkmar Middle battled it out with 18 other participants in the Georgia Association of Educators’ state qualifier for the Scripps National Spelling bee.
Dabrowski stuck with it for 10 rounds before being eliminated for not knowing how to spell the name of a black-and-white striped African weasel.
Dabrowski said she’d read the word in her studies for Friday’s big event but failed to memorize it. “After I got eliminated, the words started getting even harder,” said the 14-year-old.
Feng can attest to that. She breezed through stumpers like “dystopia” and “mukhtar” until it was just her and two others. In Round 14, she met her match.
P-R-O-T-E-R-V-I-T-Y, meaning “peevishness,” got her.
After Feng was eliminated, it was down to two students from DeKalb County and Decatur City. In the end, Simola Nayak of DeKalb County took first place after nailing the word “tautologous,” meaning “redundancy.”
Gwinnett County’s champs said they were glad to have made it as far as they did, even if they didn’t take home the big trophies.
For Feng, it means “no more studying” for a while.
“I thank God I made it this far,” Feng said. “But I’m glad it’s over.”
Mom Yiling Hsiao and dad Jerry Feng beamed with pride.
Dabrowski’s folks were quite pleased as well.
Henry Dabrowski said he was elated the moment his daughter won the District 3 event, which qualified her for state. “When we saw that it was just down to the two, that was something else,” he said.
Kelsey Dabrowski said she had never made it as far as the state competition. She found it “interesting.”
The girl said her ability to see words in her head, letter by letter, helped her get as far as she did. That, and her father’s “coaching.”
“He would sit at the computer and call out words for me to spell out,” she said. “He helped me a lot.”
It was clear that Feng’s father, too, encouraged his daughter and took great pride in her third place finish.
“It’s been a good journey,” Feng said. “We are proud, and we give God the glory.”