By Emily Younker
The winning word at the annual Joplin Globe spelling bee — “paladin” — was a word that Jaden Gallagher knew.
“I’ve read it in books before,” said the fifth-grader from Truman Elementary School in Nevada. “It has to do with a knight.”
Gallagher spelled the word correctly — after also correctly spelling “troglodyte” — to take first place in the spelling bee, which was put on Monday morning at Central Christian Center in Joplin.
The second-place finisher was Silvio Venturella, a fourth-grader from Steadley Elementary School in Carthage. Third place went to Kelsey Kerrigan, a fifth-grader at Stapleton Elementary School in Joplin.
Nearly 80 fourth- through sixth-graders from local schools competed in the bee, which was organized by the Joplin Globe’s Newspapers in Education program and sponsored by TAMKO Building Products.
The first and second rounds contained words such as “relieve,” “tradition,” “octane” and “tadpole.” Only eight spellers survived the brutal third round that brought out a harder list of words, such as “panegyric,” “abscissa,” “bathymetry” and “aberrant.” The fourth and final round narrowed the field down to the three.
Jaden said she was nervous throughout the bee, which lasted more than three hours. But spelling is something that comes easily to her because of how engrossed she is with words, she said.
“I write stories all the time, and I want to become a writer,” she said.
Cheryl Gallagher, the 11-year-old’s mother, said she was proud of her daughter.
“I knew she could do it,” she said. “I knew she was nervous, but she didn’t look nervous. I think she’s just naturally a good speller.”
Kelsey, who had studied her word lists since February, said she was happy with her third-place finish. She said spelling is an important skill to learn.
“When you’re older, if you don’t know how to spell, it makes you look bad, but if you do, it makes you look good, and it helps you get the right message across,” she said.
Among the contestants were two cousins — Annaliese Vorhees, a fifth-grader at Joplin’s Columbia Elementary School, and Isabella Vorhees, a sixth-grader at North Middle School. They said it was “a little weird” to compete against each other.
During a midmorning break after the first round, Annaliese said she was “incredibly nervous,” but that she was also enjoying herself.
“In this bee, it feels more fun than a competition, but I learned in my school bee that it gets more intense as it goes,” she said.
Like the bee’s eventual winner, Vorhees said her love of books has fed her spelling skills.
“I’ve always been a writer, so learning new words and spelling has always been helpful in that,” she said.
Globe Editor Carol Stark told contestants at the start of the bee that being able to spell well is a critical skill in an age of spell-checking programs on computers and auto-correcting software on smartphones. Those programs, she said, can provide misguided word suggestions for correctly spelled words or miss incorrectly spelled words altogether.
“You can never, never rely on a computer — that’s my mantra,” she said.
David Ackiss, a professor of English at Missouri Southern State University and the bee’s spellmaster of 32 years, said that one’s ability to spell demonstrates a certain kind of intelligence.
“It’s amazing to see such wonderful spellers,” he said of the contestants.
A troglodyte is a member of various prehistoric peoples who lived chiefly in caves, or a person characterized by reclusive habits. A paladin is a trusted military leader, such as a medieval prince. The winner, Jaden Gallagher, spelled both words correctly in succession during the fourth round to take first place in the spelling bee.