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Oliver: Hard work to pay off Wednesday for McHenry County’s best speller

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

The best competitors know what it takes to win. They know that even if they have innate talent, they need to put in the work to hone their skills.

They know the mental challenge of tedious drills done over and over and over again. They know it takes time and effort, often pushing themselves just a little more when they would rather stop.

They know they are building muscle memories so that it requires less effort later, when it really counts. The toil is not glamorous, but their eyes remain on the prize.

The best of the best, once they’ve put in the time and effort, also have a special something that makes them fiercest when the stakes are highest: grace under pressure.

All of that will be on display Wednesday night when our area’s finest spellers square off at the 2018 McHenry County Spelling Bee.

Twelve young people from across the county will converge at 7 p.m. in the Luecht Conference Center, Room B170, at McHenry County College for the chance to advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

This year’s county bee is sponsored by the McHenry County Regional Office of Education, McHenry County College and the Northwest Herald. As in past years, I’ll have the privilege of serving as one of the judges.

So here’s to the contestants in this year’s competition: Sophya Anbar, Riley School; Lily Bures, St. Mary Catholic School; Brooke Danz, Riverwood Elementary School; Trini Feng, Lundahl Middle School; Johanna Freeman, Northwood Middle School; Jacob Furst, Richard Bernotas Middle School; Tagan Gizel, Parkland School; Mark Gonzalez, Fox River Grove Middle School; Jillian Popovich, Johnsburg Junior High School; Christopher Rapala, St. Margaret Mary Catholic School; Jacqueline Silva, Jefferson Elementary School; and Kate Weber, Alden-Hebron Elementary School.

Last year’s winner, Serena Huberty, has moved on to high school, so we’ll have a new champ heading to Washington for the national bee, to be held May 27 through June 1.
Also to be commended are this year’s four alternates, who just might find themselves in the thick of things Wednesday: Olivia Donveski, Montini Catholic School; Nathan Kagan, Marengo Middle School; Nathan Sarfo, St. Thomas Catholic School; and Hamzah Subhani, Creekside Middle School.

Congratulations, too, goes to the parents, relatives and friends who helped these spellers get this far. Oftentimes, they are the unsung heroes when the spellers need someone to quiz them over and over again.

If you can make it to MCC to see the competition, you’ll be in for a treat. The tension is palpable as the contestants try to tap into their storehouses of learned words. They’ll run through their paces, some spelling the words into their palms, others closing their eyes to visualize the word in front of them. They’ll stall as long as they can, asking for word origin or for the word to be used in a sentence. Finally, they will take a deep breath and spell.

Last year’s bee wound up being a duel between Huberty and returning speller Tagan Gizel, finally ending in the 31st round.

If you can’t make it, you still can experience the excitement and drama of the contest by watching it live on

Best wishes to all of the contestants, and I hope you join me to see who takes the title of McHenry County’s top speller.

• Joan Oliver is a former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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