Spelling Bee champ crowned

After his fourth and final appearance and following his runner-up finish in 2013, River Elementary eighth-grader Peyton Hall, 14, won the 34th annual Marietta Times Regional Spelling Bee on Friday evening.

After a nerve-racking 15 rounds of spelling, Hall successfully beat out 51 other spellers from eight school districts across Washington, Monroe, Noble, Wood and Pleasants counties.

With the night’s approximately two-hour bee including words as simple as “trash” to words as unusual as “kabuki,” Hall made it past regional competition and will now go on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee after correctly spelling “tortoni” and “crescendo” in the final round.

Runner-up eighth-grader Will Mullen, 13, of St. Mary School, who entered the competition as an alternate, missed the word “mole,” pronounced moh-ley, a spicy Mexican sauce. That gave Hall the chance to take home the win. After correctly spelling “crescendo,” Hall had to spell another word correctly to win, and as soon as pronouncer Nancy Mahan uttered the final word, Hall’s face showed the audience he had it in the bag.

“I was really excited when she said the word ‘tortoni’ because right away I knew I could spell it,” Hall said afterward. “It feels amazing to say I’m the best speller in the region.”

“Tortoni” is a word of Italian origin, defined by Merriam Webster’s Dictionary as “ice cream made of heavy cream, often with minced almonds and chopped maraschino cherries and often flavored with rum.”

Hall will represent the region at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C., which will take place from May 25 through May 31.

“I’ve never been to D.C., so I plan on doing some sightseeing, seeing the capital, and of course, preparing diligently for the bee,” Hall said.

His mother, Becky Hall, said she was confident in her son’s ability to win this year.

“I’ve watched him progress each year, and I knew this year he knew every word,” she said. “We called each one out, and we were up doing that until midnight last night.”

Hall finished seventh in his home district, Switzerland of Ohio, and was grateful he still made it to regionals. He credits his success to the concept of keeping it simple.

“I’m not into the digital ways of learning words,” he said. “I like the old-fashioned ways of memorizing, where you’re writing words out and calling them out.”

Hall could not recall any words that really tripped him up, but said words like “pow-wow” made him to remember the roots and his studies.

This marked Mullen’s third trip to the regional bee.

“I’m happy anyway, because I didn’t think I would make it this far,” he said. “I didn’t study that much.”

Mullen’s father Michael said his son’s finish still made him very proud.

“There’s so many great kids out there, and it’s great to see how far they come to be here,” he said. “They’re all winners tonight, because I know I would have been out by the second round.”

In addition to Hall and Mullen, third place went to Anna Fatta, of Jackson Middle School; fourth place went to Breanna McElwain, of Powhatan Elementary; and fifth place went to Samantha VanFossen, of Hamilton Elementary.

“I’m happy, because I did better than I did last year,” VanFossen said. “And last year I went out on an easy word.”

Newly implemented at the national bee is the use of a vocabulary round, where spellers must define words to advance to semi-finals, an obstacle that often trips up contestants. At the regional bee, a vocabulary round was implemented, but only on a practice basis.