published Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Chattanooga fifth-grader wins 2012 Regional Spelling Bee with 'quibble'

The crowd in the Fine Arts Center at UTC watches as young students participate in the 2012 Regional Spelling Bee Saturday.
The crowd in the Fine Arts Center at UTC watches as young students participate in the 2012 Regional Spelling Bee Saturday.
Photo by Jake Daniels.
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Nicole Frische spells with her finger on the back of her name tag: q-u-i-b-l-e.

It doesn't look right.

She recalls the word's definition, pronunciation and sentence use before speaking into the mic. "q-u-i-b-b-l-e. Quibble," the Allen Elementary fifth-grader says, to win the 2012 Regional Spelling Bee.

As winner, Nicole was awarded a trip to Washington, D.C., for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, plus $500, a $100 savings bond and, of course, a dictionary.

The regional spelling bee, sponsored by the Chattanooga Times Free Press and held at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, brought together 60 children in grades four through eight from 15 counties in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia.

The hard-fought contest lasted for more than two hours and through 300 words.

"These kids will mesmerize adults," event organizer Robert Johns said.

"They're very aware of nuances in language," noted pronouncer Valerie Rutledge.

The contest began with more common words -- condor, sushi, fathom. Still, nearly half the spellers were eliminated in the first three rounds.

Words like "azimuth" (a type of navigational measurement) began cropping up by round four, followed by waterzooi (a Dutch stew), issei (Japanese immigrants), and jacamar (a Latin American bird). And while there were plenty of Greek and Latin-derived words, others came from Icelandic, Javanese and Iroquois.

Spellers began to fidget in their seats. They took more precautions, slowing down, writing invisible drafts on their name cards. And while they tried to remain stoic in defeat, at least a few sobs could be heard off stage.

The final five held firm, including three-time champion Tanay Patri and eighth-grader Marlee Mallat, who was battling pneumonia and ear infection. Both fell after 20 rounds, paving the way for Nicole.

When master of ceremonies Sarah-Taylor Argo asked her what excites her most about the national spelling bee, Nicole replies, "I think I might be on TV."

Fame aside, Marlee defends the skill of spelling in the age of word processors.

"If you don't know how to spell, it makes you look stupid. Spelling helps you in life," she said.

And though Nicole said she often wanted to quit while preparing for the bee, all the studying is not without pleasure. She learned a new favorite word -- "bobbejaan." She doesn't remember what it means, but she can spell it adroitly and expeditiously.

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