For the 2018 finalists at The Bee, experience mattered.
On Saturday morning, 33 competitors filled the stage at East Central College to take part in The Missourian’s regional spelling competition, The Bee.
Gabbie Helm, an eighth-grader at Our Lady of Lourdes School, and Katarina North, an eighth-grader at St. Clair Junior High School, outlasted them all.
Helm and North survived a grueling 17 rounds to be left standing as the finalists. In the championship round, Helm was able to spell “occurrence” and “studious” back-to-back to take home the title of champion of The Bee.
“In the beginning I was really scared and nervous, but I started to calm down in the middle,” Helm said. “At the end, I got nervous again. I’m really happy now.”
The eighth annual Bee was sponsored by The Missourian and hth companies.
Helm is the daughter of Tracy and Greg Helm. She received a trophy and $200 cash prize. North is the daughter of Bonnie and Colin North. She received a trophy and $50. Both Helm and North were veterans of the spelling competition.
Helm competed at The Bee in sixth grade and was a finalist. North went as a fourth-grader and placed just outside the Top 10.
Helm said having gone through the process of The Bee before helped her relax.
“It gave me a little more experience going in — I knew what to expect,” she said.
The relaxation, however, was short-lived. Helm had to face one of the toughest fields in recent event history. Competitor after competitor kept spelling words correctly.
“With so many rounds, it added a lot of nervousness,” she said.
It took seven rounds to whittle the field of 33 to the Top 10. Ten more rounds were needed to get down to the final two.
Joining Helm and North in the top 10 were Harmony Tabak, sixth grade, Beaufort Elementary; Jenna Adair, fifth grade, Coleman Elementary; Phillip North, fifth grade, Edgar Murray Elementary; Elena Roewe, eighth grade, Immanuel Lutheran; Mariah Dodson, sixth grade, Meramec Valley Middle School; Megan Patton, eighth grade, Riverbend School; Kai Matau, fifth grade, South Point Elementary; and Erin Smith, fifth grade, Truman Elementary.
Helm said she studied hard to win.
“I took the words that I was most unsure of and put them on a quizlet and had my mom quiz me,” she said. “I did that every night this week. I was trying to cram this morning, but my mom told me not to because it makes me nervous.”
During The Bee, Helm was locked in when it was her turn to spell. She used her name placard and “wrote” the words on the back with her finger as she was spelling.
“I’ve seen it from other places, like on TV, and I used it at my school spelling bee,” she said. “It worked, so I kept doing it.”
Helm said she only really got tripped up once.
“I was a little unsure of bailiff. I was pretty sure it was an “i”, so I stuck with my gut,”
Nerves were an issue with North throughout The Bee, but she never showed it. She drew the second spot in the spelling lineup and, after the No. 1 was eliminated, she had to lead off every round.
“I was really scared when I drew second,” she said. “When the first girl got out, I didn’t like going first. I had a little bit of time to relax between words, but when they kept moving up the difficulty of the words each round, I was hoping I’d be able to figure it out by hearing what words people got before me. I didn’t have that experience so I was really nervous going into every word.”
Despite the disadvantage of spelling first, North had an advantage other spellers didn’t — a familiar face on stage with her.
North’s brother, Phillip, also qualified for The Bee and made the top 10. By the final rounds, the two were sitting next to each other.
“It was nice to have moral support,” she said.
After placing second, Katarina said she had family bragging rights. Her brother wanted to share in the glory.
“He’s trying to get me to share my cash prize,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Nope!’ ”
North was thrilled with her finish.
“My goal was to be in the Top 10 since this is my last year being able to do this,” she said. “When I surpassed that goal, that was huge.”