ST. CHARLES – After nearly 40 rounds of spelling Monday night, “tuffet” was the only word that stood between Piper Winkler and the 2013 Kane County Spelling Bee title.
Without hesitation, the Elgin Academy eighth-grader from Geneva spelled the word correctly, and excited cheers from the audience followed.
“It’s very exciting,” she said. “It’s wonderful because I put a lot of time into this.”
The eight contestants sailed through the first round, correctly spelling words such as sitzmark, igneous, maraca and flemish. By the ninth round, only Winkler and Hieu Nguyen, an eighth-grader at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School, were left in the competition.
For the next 29 rounds, the two correctly spelled words such as kuruma, gauche, charlatan and sauerbraten.
It wasn’t until round 38 that Nguyen got tripped up on the word “alacrity.”
Nguyen described the spelling bee as tedious and “kind of stressful.” His mother, Cao Nguyen, said her son is also preparing to compete in an upcoming geography bee, which is one of his favorite subjects.
“He studied very, very hard,” his mother said.
Monday was the second time Nguyen and Winkler had gone toe to toe in a spelling match.
The two were named co-winners of the regional spelling bee after the competition lasted 63 rounds and officials ran out of words to give them.
Winkler, who is celebrating her 14th birthday today, said her strategy to win was to ask as many questions as possible about the words so she had enough time to think about how to spell them. She said she felt prepared for the spelling bee, and said she owed her mom a lot for quizzing her.
She said her love of reading also helped.
“I read a lot of Shakespeare, and I love classical novels,” she said, adding that she’s reading Jane Austen now.
Her mother, Michele Winkler, said Piper Winkler has been reading since age 2.
“I’m just so happy for her,” said her father, Chris Winkler. “She worked really hard for those moments. Her mom has been testing her night after night.”
As part of the prize package, Winkler won a seven-day trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., for the competition that will take place from May 28 to May 30. The trip is sponsored by the KCT Credit Union and Kane County Chronicle.
Aside from the trip, Winkler won a dictionary, a 2013 U.S. mint proof set, a one-year subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica Online and a $20 Kimmer’s Ice Cream gift card.
Those who competed Monday included Marin Childers from Holy Angels Catholic School; Morgan Heileman from Dundee Middle School; Joy Mazur from Rotolo Middle School; Joe Ott from Einstein Academy; Anna Rivera from St. Rita of Cascia Catholic School; and Olivia Wulbert from Holy Cross Catholic School. Students competed at the school and regional levels before advancing to the county level Monday.
Winkler said she was really grateful to her school, and thanked the class of one of her teachers for making a colorful sign to cheer her on.
Her advice to others who might want to compete in a spelling bee is to read often.
“Reading is the big one,” she said. “It’s like another way of going through the dictionary.”