'T-O-P-E-N-G' spells victory for 5th-grader in McHenry County Spelling Bee

Brooke Danz, 10, of Riverwood Elementary School celebrates winning the McHenry County Spelling Bee on Wednesday with a hug from her grandmother, Mary Danz of Elgin, and other family members, including her grandmother, Margaret Leeper (from left) of Lima; mother, Robyn Danz of McHenry; and sister, Lexi, 8. Brooke Danz won in the 31st round with the word topeng after beating Trini Feng of Lundahl Middle School and 10 other local spellers. She will advance to the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.[]

CRYSTAL LAKE – On Tuesday night, the night before the McHenry County Spelling Bee, Brooke Danz didn’t sleep a wink.

The 10-year-old fifth-grader from Riverwood Elementary School in McHenry had a bad cold and spent a restless night in bed.

That didn’t stop her from becoming this year’s McHenry County Spelling Bee champion.

One of 12 contestants from schools across McHenry County, Brooke zipped through 31 rounds of difficult words. She correctly spelled echt, novillero, rendezvous and – what she called her biggest challenge onstage – hemerocallis.

The word that won her the bee? Topeng.


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Brooke remained cool and reserved during the event. Asked whether she was nervous, she said “a little.”

Brooke avoided a near disaster in the third round, when the spelling bee’s pronouncer asked her to spell homogenous.

“H-O-M-O-G-E-N-O-U-S,” Brooke spelled.

Ding! The bee judges tapped the bell to signify a misspelled word.

But something didn’t sit right with Brooke’s mother, Robyn Danz; from where she sat in the auditorium, she heard her daughter spell the right word. She raced to the judges, but they directed her to the pronouncer, who revealed she had mispronounced the word homogeneous.

Brooke correctly had spelled the word given to her.

At the end of the contest, when Brooke spelled her final word correctly, her father, Michael Danz, got so excited that he banged his head on the seat in front of him and drew blood.

Brooke’s mother commended her daughter for fighting through her cold.

“I’m just glad she did well, being she was so sick,” Robyn Danz said.

Brooke now will move on to participate in the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

This year’s runner-up was Trini Feng of Lundahl Middle School. In the rounds leading to her final word, Trini spelled recalcitrant, sachem and diffa correctly. In Round 30, she misspelled gnathonic.

Wednesday night’s bee got off to a quick start with six contestants misspelling words in the first round. The first-round knockouts came at the hands of the words etymology, melancholy, concerto, piazza, boudoir and patel.

Other knockout words included mole, dyslexia, recidivist and asthmogenic.

The 2018 bee also included a storyline organizers hadn’t seen before: an alternate stepping into the competition.

Tagan Gizel of Parkland School had to drop out, leaving an opening for one of the spelling bee’s four alternates to step in. The night before the bee, Olivia Donveski, a fifth-grader at Montini Catholic School, got the call.

Asked whether she was excited, Olivia nodded her head and smiled: “Yes.”

This year’s bee was sponsored by the McHenry County Regional Office of Education, McHenry County College and the Northwest Herald.


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.

This year’s four alternates were Olivia Donveski, Montini Catholic School; Nathan Kagan, Marengo Middle School; Nathan Sarfo, St. Thomas Catholic School; and Hamzah Subhani, Creekside Middle School.