Junior high and middle school students from across Vermilion County will face off next week to see which teams will be T-R-I-U-M-P-H-A-N-T in spelling the most words correctly and advancing to the final competition.

But first, student teams from each of the 10 participating schools will demonstrate their spelling abilities during two sectional competitions at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18. One contest will take place at Salt Fork South Junior High School and the other at Rossville-Alvin Grade School.

Assistant Regional Superintendent Aaron Hird said he was pleased with the number of schools participating in this year’s countywide spelling contest.

“We definitely want to get as many schools involved as possible and have an even number of them, too,” Hird said.

During the sectional competitions on Tuesday, teams of four students plus alternates from Armstrong-Ellis, Bismarck-Henning, Hoopeston Area, Potomac and Rossville-Alvin will compete against one another at Rossville-Alvin.

Teams of four plus alternates from Mary Miller Junior High School in Georgetown, Oakwood Junior High School, Salt Fork South Junior High School, Schlarman Academy and Westville Junior High School also will face off in a separate competition on Tuesday at Salt Fork South in Jamaica.

Each of the four spellers per school will be asked to spell 15 words during the sectional competition and at least 15 words during the spelling contest finals, Hird said.

The words the students are asked to spell come from a packet of approximately 3,000 words that the Vermilion County Regional Office of Education has had for years. The participating schools received the packet of words at the end of November so teachers could practice spelling the words with their students in the classroom.

“We send out 32 different lists of words to the schools,” Hird said. “Within each of those lists, there are about 90 words on each one.”

With so many lists and so many words, there is no way of knowing what words the students will be asked to spell during the contest.

“That’s about 3,000 words, and they (spellers) don’t know which list will be selected at the meet,” he said, explaining a drawing takes place to randomly select the word list that will be used.

“Also, if a list has been used at the sectionals, it’s not used at the finals,” Hird added.

“As it ends up, the kids will need to know up to the 3,000 words because they will have to spell every fifth word on a list during competition,” he said.

The lists start out with easier words before transitioning to more difficult words by the end of the list, such as extraterrestrial, zealot and interchangeable.

“They’re words a junior high kid should be able to spell,” Hird said. “Many of the words are spelled differently than they sound.”

The top two school teams from each sectional competition will advance to the 2020 spelling contest finals sponsored by the Vermilion County Regional Office of Education, the Commercial-News and Danville Area Community College.

The spelling contest finals — which have been a tradition in the county for a long time — will start at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, in Room 306 of Vermilion Hall at DACC.

This year, Mary Miller Junior High Principal John Tosh will be the spelling contest’s pronouncer.

“He’s got a good voice for the microphone,” Hird said of Tosh.

When it comes time for the spelling contest finals, the room at DACC is usually packed with supportive parents who attend the competition.

“We usually have close to 100 spectators,” Hird said. “It fills that room up pretty good.”

The top two school teams that have spelled the most words correctly will receive first- and second-place plaques for their school. Individual medallions also will be awarded to the students on the first- and second-place teams. Students on the third- and fourth-place teams will receive individual ribbons of participation.

Last year, Hoopeston’s John Greer Grade School finished first, followed by Salt Fork South Junior High in second place, Oakwood Junior High coming in third and Bismarck-Henning Junior High placing fourth.

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