Video gaming saves Northern spelling champ

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

SHIPROCK, February 21, 2013

Text size: A A A

(Special to the Times – Krista Allen)

TOP: The Western Agency Regional Spelling Bee took place Feb. 13 at the Greyhills Academy High School auditorium. Ten finalists include Wynter Dan (Tuba City Boarding School), Shantel Manygoats (Tuba City Eagle's Nest Intermediate School), Alannah-Grace Mangubat (Tuba City Boarding School), Brennon Collateta (Hopi Day School), Kaly Arvizu (Tuba City Boarding School), Alicia Dixon (Kayenta Community School), Edick Nuesca and Suzette Vasquez (both Tuba City Junior High), Joshua Dixon (Kayenta Community School), Tiana Billy (Tuba City Boarding School).

SECOND FROM TOP: Western Navajo Regional Spelling Bee grand champion Edick Nuesca from Tuba City Junior High.

T hank goodness for video games, or the 8th-grade spelling match at the Shiprock Agency Spelling Bee might still be going on.

Not because the two final contestants were spelling so well. Quite the opposite.

For the 12 rounds after the rest of the contestants were eliminated and they went head to head, neither Kai Lameman of Red Mesa Junior High nor Kristaile Bigman of Atsa Biyaazh Community School could spell two consecutive words right to win the bee.

Finally, after tripping over many easier words, Lameman whizzed through the obscure word "ocarina" and followed up with another musical term, "adagio," to win.

However, Lameman later confessed he didn't know "ocarina" from its dictionary definition — "a simple wind instrument or toy of the flute class" — but rather from the video game "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time," in which the ocarina (according to a gaming website) is "a time-controlling object."

A similar thing happened in the 7th grade match, with the last two contestants misspelling vigorously for 14 rounds until Cara John of Atsa Biyaazh finally spelled "parapet" and "patina" after Kassey Yazzie of Red Rock Day School failed her assault on "schloss" (a German castle or manor house), getting the tricky German "sch" but inexplicably adding a "u" after the "o."

Fourth and fifth grade sustained similar teeth-grindingly misspelled standoffs ("Sintacks"? "Crokai"? Really?) until Nelson Nakai of Aneth Elementary finally bested Arnesha Johnson of T'iis Nazbas Community School to become the fifth-grade champion and Alona Johnson of Atsa Biyaazh surpassed schoolmate James King in the fourth-grade bout.

Sixth grade was an almost refreshing massacre, with Angel Gonzales of Red Mesa Elementary booting out all but her closest competitor and classmate, Vanessa Martinez, by the fourth round, and punctuating her win with "asterisk" in the fifth.

Other than John, most of the winners — the winners, mind you — said they hadn't studied at all.

This revelation prompted judge Kathi Stanford to bristle, "It's a privilege for them to be here. Somehow they're not getting that."

Stanford said it appeared most of the contestants "hadn't even cracked the Spell It," Merriam-Webster's study guide to the Scripps National Spelling Bee that includes frequently misspelled words and word lists by language of origin.

One thing's for sure: the northern kids will have to step it up if they hope to challenge the likes of Central Agency's Aarish Raza and Samuel Yeager, who are certainly taking their dictionaries with them to the bathroom by now, in the Navajo Nation Bee scheduled for March 7 in Chinle.

That's just three weeks, Kai. Put down the video game and pick up a dictionary. Because in the spelling game, the Ocarina of Time can save you but once.