Spelling Bee Championship

Houghtaling Elementary School 5th grader Thierry Oyedeji spells the word "chauffeurs" on Monday during the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District Spelling Bee Championship at Ketchikan High School. Oyedeji placed 1st in the event. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

For the third consecutive year, Houghtaling Elementary School's Thierry Oyedeji spelled his way to victory at the Ketchikan School District's level of the Scripps Spelling Bee.

Oyedeji, a fifth grader, was one of six students competing in the bee on Monday evening at the Ketchikan High School auditorium.

And while Oyedeji was named the winner — and was given a shiny medal to match the title — all the competitors had earned certificates and pins, along with the ability to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, due to the virtual nature of the competition this year.

The competing students who sat on the Kayhi stage in a socially distanced row of folding metal chairs on Monday were victors of their respective schoolwide spelling bees, which all were held in late January.

The competing students included Point Higgins Elementary School sixth-grader Riley Saxton, Fast Track sixth-grader Lucas Rowser, Houghtaling Elementary fifth-grader Thierry Oyedeji, Ketchikan Charter School sixth-grader Alijhan Millendez, Tongass School of Arts and Sciences sixth-grader Bella Wills and Fawn Mountain fifth-grader Sarah Reynolds.

The students each faced their own individual microphone — a new coronavirus mitigation measure, along with the masks that the students wore throughout the bee (which only were removed when the competitor was spelling their word).

The small audience of less than 20 people included a limited number of each spellers' family, who also wore masks and sat distanced by household or social bubble.

The spelling bee was judged by Fast Track Coordinator Lori Ortiz, Ketchikan School Board Member Diane Gubatayao and retired Ketchikan music teacher Christa Bruce.

First City Players' Jack Finnegan again took the role of the competition's official pronouncer, and Kayhi senior Tessa Salazar served as the event's host this year.

At the beginning of the spelling bee, Salazar called each student to their respective microphone to introduce them to the small audience, as a test of the microphones and students' audibility.

The bee lasted 11 rounds (one word per student, per round), taking only a half hour before Oyedeji was named the official winner.

In preparation for the bee, the students studied a list of close to 850 words, according to judge Lori Ortiz.

All six students correctly spelled their words in rounds one, two and three.

At the top of the fourth round, the row of metal seats began to empty.

Riley Saxton made it into the fourth round, correctly spelling the words "gel," "peanut" and "dash."

Alijhan Millendez passed through five rounds of competition, spelling words including "fans," "ray," “jam," "couch" and "least" during the bee.

Lucas Rowser made it through the eighth round, having correctly spelled the words "train," "bite," "began," "freeze," "awe," "remember," "bridge," and "pedestrian."

Bella Wills spelled through the 10th round. Wills' correct spellings during the bee included "sport," "gummy," "father," "money," "sidekicks," "trophy," "bracelet," "expression" and "meditation."

The final round came down to Fawn Mountain fifth-grader Sarah Reynolds and Houghtaling's Oyedeji.

Runner-up Reynolds made it through until the 11th round.

Reynolds' 10 correct words during the competition included "tall," "mops," "far," "chapter," "shambles," "either," "bough," "ventured," "franchise" and "mustache."

Thierry Oyedeji's final word was "chauffeurs."

During the March 2020 spelling bee, Oyedeji won with the word "beatboxing."