When he heard the word Wednesday in the championship round of the TCU North Texas Regional Spelling Bee, 14-year-old Jacob Williams knew that his studying and avid reading were about to pay off big.
“I think I had seen that word before in a couple of different places,” said Williams, an eighth-grader at Grace Preparatory Academy, a private school in Arlington. “But even if I hadn’t, the word is spelled pretty much like it sounds.”
Jacob correctly spelled his championship word — it means “the making of verses,” according to Merriam-Webster — after Kellem Jones, an 11-year-old fifth-grader at Stephen F. Austin Elementary School in Weatherford, misspelled trachea in the annual contest.
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Williams won $100 and an invitation to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May.
Kellem, the runner-up, left with a $100 check in hand.
Williams has been honing his spelling chops since first grade, when he started winning classroom bees. Grace conducts a schoolwide spelling bee in fifth through eighth grades, sending the winners to the area quarterfinals. Williams won the school bee three out of four years, making it to the area round last month, where he earned his way to the regional contest, sponsored by the Star-Telegram and hosted and coordinated by the TCU College of Education.
The Star-Telegram has been a partner in the bee for more than 20 years, said Wendy Stane, community marketing manager for the newspaper. “We strongly believe in supporting literacy in our community.”
I knew I had a huge chance of winning when it came down to the last word — which was a pretty easy word that I knew. But it still took me a couple of minutes to make sure I had it right.
Jacob Williams, spelling bee winner
Williams said he started getting nervous at the end. Kellem had earned a championship word but misspelled it, setting up Williams for the win.
“I knew I had a huge chance of winning when it came down to the last word — which was a pretty easy word that I knew,” Williams said. “But it still took me a couple of minutes to make sure I had it right” — which usually takes the form of internal visualization or using a finger to spell the word in the air.
Karrabi Malin, first-time coordinator of the bee for TCU, said she was impressed by the demeanor of the two finalists.
“They were the most gracious, classiest guys, and it was the first time for both of them,” Malin said, noting how politely they asked their questions of the official who gives the spelling words. “It was really sweet.”
They were the most gracious, classiest guys, and it was the first time for both of them.
Karrabi Malin, bee coordinator, noting the politeness of the two finalists
But there’s more to Williams than spelling. He serves as Junior High Student Council president and has been an All-Star baseball player in Arlington Southwest Little League, where he plans to volunteer as an umpire this season, according a bio prepared by his dad, James Williams, for the bee. Jacob also plays on the basketball team and won trophies with the track team. He competes in chess tournaments and plays guitar on the Grace Community Church’s junior high worship team.
“He’s held up a baseball trophy and a spelling bee trophy since last July,” James Williams said. “I think that’s unusual.”
I don’t see athletics and spelling bees as totally separate things. You’re still competing.
Bee winner Jacob Williams, who also excels in sports
But Jacob Williams said he knows many athletes who excel in academics, including a friend who plays baseball and won the school bee last year.
“I don’t see athletics and spelling bees as totally separate things,” he said. “You’re still competing.”
The national bee will pay airfare and lodging for Jacob Williams and one adult. “But we’re probably purchasing some extra tickets so the whole family can go,” he said. “It will be like a family vacation to a spelling bee.”