And this year, with the aging out of the two perennial front-runners, Aarish Raza and Samuel Yeager, it's anybody's game.
Yeager won last year, correctly spelling "gizzard."
Bee season unofficially started yesterday with Chinle's annual first- through third-grade competition, which isn't part of the Scripps qualifying series but, according to organizer Shawna Claw of the Office of Youth Development, initiates the kids into the joys and agonies of spelling competitions and prepares them for later years.
(It must work, since Chinle has historically done well at the Navajo Nation bee.)
Chinle's regular fourth- through eighth-grade competition will be Feb. 5 at the Piñon High School auditorium, followed by Fort Defiance Agency's bee Feb. 7 at Greasewood Community School; Shiprock Agency's Feb. 12 at the Phil Thomas Center for the Performing Arts; Western Agency's Feb. 13 at Greyhills Academy and finally the Navajo Nation/Navajo Times Spelling Bee March 13 at St. Michael's Indian School.
All bees start at 9 a.m. and are open to the public.
The winner of the Navajo Nation bee will go on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.
Claw, who has been organizing the Chinle bee for several years and whose daughter, Cairo, is a top contender, says she's noticed the fruits of the competition.
"It motivates the students to learn new words, and I do hear them using them in their daily communication," she said. "More importantly, I see them teaching their peers, so even the students who aren't directly involved in the spelling bee benefit from it."
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