Ralph Brown of the Newton County Theme School takes first place in the county spelling bee. (Staff Photo: Karen Rohr)
COVINGTON — Ralph Brown didn’t expect to win the Newton County Spelling Bee and after his victory on Friday morning he couldn’t contain his excitement.
“It feels great,” said Brown, breaking out into a big grin as he supported his 3-foot-tall trophy.
Nineteen students representing each of the Newton County School System’s elementary and middle schools gathered in the Newton High School auditorium before an audience of family, friends and educators to participate in the 2014 Newton County School System Spelling Bee.
Within the first 30 minutes of the bee, words such as “obsidian,” “gorgon,” “mollify,” vivacious,” “cephalopod,” “bigot” and “chauvinism” eliminated about half the contestants.
“Wainscot,” “wildebeest, “devastated,” “hazard” and “phenomenon” whittled the spelling bee down to just two students — Brown and competitor Jessi Books. The two eighth-graders battled it out over words such as “adamant,” “consternation,” “courtier,” “teriyaki” and “restaurant.”
When Books tripped up on the word “bizarre,” Brown proceeded to spell it correctly and clinched first place with “pyrotechnics.”
Brown, a 14-year-old student at the Newton County Theme School, said he discovered his strong spelling abilities in fourth grade when he earned runner-up in the spelling bee at Ficquett Elementary School.
“I realized I could spell a lot of words with ease,” said Brown, who participated in the Newton County bee in fourth grade as an alternate and took third place in the county bee as a sixth-grader.
To prepare for the spelling bee, Brown said he studied a list of practice words educators distributed to students, and he took spelling tests online. Brown said he enjoys word problems and word searches.
The teen also practiced spelling words with his classmates and his grandmother, Marie Brown, said his mother, Paulette Brown.
“I told him, ‘Just do your best and have a good time,’” said Paulette Brown.
Her son served as a page for the Georgia State Senate for a day last week, said his mother, and though that experience distracted him somewhat from his studying, his determination led him to first place, she said.
“I know when he sets his mind to things he’s a pretty high achiever, and I was very happy for him because I know it made him happy,” she said.
Brown, who is set to attend Eastside High School next year, has participated in the Duke Talented Identification Program for gifted youngsters, was honored at the state level for his ACT scores and is a straight-A student. He especially enjoys history.
“I’m very proud of him,” said his mother.
Runner-up in the Newton County spelling Bee, Jessi Books, 13, attends Indian Creek Middle School. She and her family recently relocated from Minnesota to Georgia, and last year she earned a spot as an alternate in the Newton County bee.
Books said that she and her sister, Chloe, 12, have spelling contests and that she finds words “interesting.” Books is the daughter of Semina and Earl Books.
“I’m happy to be runner-up,” she said.