SIERRA VISTA — Douglas Unified School District gained a measure of bragging rights Saturday when two of the district’s students finished as the top spellers at Cochise County’s spelling bee.
After a grueling 32 rounds, Ray Borane Middle School eighth-grader Diana Berry won the county bee by nailing the championship word, “finesse.” Martha Castro, a Stevenson Elementary School fifth-grader, finished second.
Last year, Berry finished second to Emma Nguyen, a Sierra Vista Unified School District student who attends Town & Country Elementary School. Nguyen finished as the county’s top speller in 2017 as a fourth-grader and won a second time last year. Nguyen finished third on Saturday after stumbling on “samurai” in the 25th round.
The competition went seven more rounds between Berry and Castro, the two competitors challenged with such words as gulag, philanthropy, perfidy, entourage and capitulation before Castro stumbled on “prerogative.”
Berry is the 14-year-old daughter of Diana and Marco Berry, of Douglas. No stranger to spelling competitions, she won her school spelling bee as a first-grader while enrolled in Omega Charter School, which is a first- through eighth-grade campus.
“That was my first spelling competition, and it was pretty encouraging for me,” she said. “I stopped competing for awhile, and then started again in the sixth grade. I qualified for the county competition in sixth, seventh and eighth grades and placed second last year. I’m very excited about winning today.”
Of all the words she faced on Saturday, Berry said it was “klompen” that concerned her most.
“I wasn’t sure about that one, so I was relieved when I spelled it correctly,” she said.
For the third year, Karen Bristow, a former Buena High School English teacher, now a Cochise College instructor, served as the event’s pronouncer.
“Every year, I’m impressed with the scholars who come to compete,” she said. “This was the most competitive group in my three years as a pronouncer.”
The competition’s three judges included Judge John F. Kelliher of Superior Court Division II, Judge Laura Cardinal of Superior Court Division I and Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels.
“The final three contestants are girls, and that doesn’t surprise me in the least,” Kelliher said during one of the breaks. “All of the spellers are amazing. Knowing they’re our future leaders gives me tremendous hope for my social security.”
Hosted by the Cochise County School Superintendent’s Office, the event drew 31 spellers ranging from fourth through eighth grade.
“Today’s competition was absolutely amazing,” said Jacqui Clay, county superintendent of schools. “The caliber of students that we have from all over this county is incredible. I am so proud of the parents and teachers who work together to help shape this impressive group of young people we have here today.”
Saturday’s win means Berry will represent Cochise County at the Arizona State Spelling Bee on March 23 in Phoenix. The winner of the state competition represents Arizona in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., this summer.
Clay is seeking spelling coaches to help Berry as she prepares for the state competition.
“Other counties surround their top spellers with a support team of coaches, which is something we have not been doing,” she said. “I want to change that. If there is anyone in the county who would like to help coach for the state competition, please call my office phone at 520-432-8952 and and let us know.”