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For local spelling bee winner, runner-up, it was a repeat performance

By Amber Marra

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For the winner and the first runner-up of the 56th annual Kanawha County Spelling Bee, it was a repeat performance.

Kathryn Wantlin, 12, of Charleston Catholic, took the top title in this year's bee. She sealed the deal by spelling "ghastly" as her winning word.

It was the second year for her to be named county champion.

It is also the second year she has matched wits with Lauren Coccari, 12, of Sissonville Middle School.

Lauren became first runner-up when she missed "slanderous," but she had survived 46 rounds against Kathryn and 61 other Kanawha County students in the Jan. 21 event at South Charleston High School.

The third-place winner was Alexandra Goad, 13, of Cross Lanes Christian Academy. The top-placing elementary student was Varun Kukkillaya, 10, of Holtz Elementary.

This is the third year Lauren has been county runner-up. She will reach the age limit for competition next year, and she will try one more time for the county champion title. 

"I want to try to actually win next year and make the best of it because it will be the last time I'll be up on that stage spelling, so I'm enjoying the last few years of glory while I can," she said.

Both Kathryn and Lauren will compete in the March 17 Gazette-Mail Regional Spelling Bee, joining champions and runners-up from 21 other counties in the southern half of the state.

The regional bee will be held at Capital High School. It is co-sponsored by the West Virginia Housing Development Fund and Lumos. The regional contest will be televised on MyZ, WSAZ's sister station, at 1 p.m. March 31.

The Kanawha County girls have spelled against each other more than once and have similar interests -- both are avid pianists. They feel no animosity towards one another.

"It's just like going up against any other person," Kathryn said.

As she prepares for the regional bee, she also must find time for piano lessons, regular schoolwork and math field day practice. Luckily, she has her mom to help her study the list of words she gets before the competition.

She says she can't help but think about the way words are spelled.

"Sometimes when I'm doing something else, it just creeps up into my mind," she said.

Lauren also has a study list and has her mom help when she can.

At the county bee, pronouncer Kennie Bass had moved beyond the word list that had been provided to spellers when he gave Lauren "slanderous."

"They started going off the list, and then I was pretty much screwed because there are a million different suffixes that could go on the end of that," she said.

Pronouncers move beyond resources provided to competitors even sooner on the regional and national levels. Students who do best at those levels are those who read widely and study language rules.

Kathryn studies etymology, or the history and roots of words, before she gets on stage.

"They have certain rules, like tricks to help you spell it if you've never seen the word before, like in Arabic some letters come up double and in German they like to have three consonants together," she said.

Bass, a news anchor for WCHS and WVAH, has served the difficult role of pronouncer for the Kanawha County bee for the past three years. He says hearing the word and its root can make or break a speller.

He prepares for his role in advance and realizes the seriousness of speaking every word as clearly and concisely as possible.

"This is going to sound silly, but there is a lot of pressure involved with that job. I just don't want to be the reason that causes them to have an error," Bass said.

Bass has a history with spelling bees. He won multiple school contests when he attended the now-closed Arthur I. Boreman Elementary in Cross Lanes.

Kathryn said the thrill she gets from spelling a word correctly helps her overcome her nervousness about a competition.

"I just spell every word and it calms me down, I guess," she said.

Last year's regional champion, who represented the Gazette-Mail at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., was Elizabeth Koh, 13, of St. Francis De Sales School in Beckley.

Elizabeth won the Raleigh County bee and again will compete in the regional competition.

This year's regional winner will take a weeklong trip to the nation's capital to compete in the national bee. The regional trophy will be placed in the new champion's school for the next year.

The SMART529 program will award the regional champion a $2,500 college savings account. 

 The winner also receives the Samuel Louis Sugarman award, a $100 savings bond donated by Jay Sugarman in honor of his father, Samuel Louis Sugarman; a one-year subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica Online donated by Encyclopedia Britannica; a copy of Merriam Webster's Third New International Dictionary, the official reference for the bee.

The second-place regional winner will receive a $150 cash prize, a subscription to Encycopedia Britannica Online, a Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and a $20 Amazon.com gift card.

The third-place winner will receive a $75 cash prize, an Encyclopedia Britannia subscription and a $20 Amazon.com gift card.

Reach Amber Marra at amber.marra@dailymail.com or 304-348-4843


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