More than 30 students from 10 Catholic schools put their dictionary-like brains to the test for the first Deanery 10 spelling bee that took place near the end of the school year at St. Therese School in Alhambra. “Spellers, are you ready? Let’s buzz!” heralded St. Therese sixth grade teacher Eric Johannsen whose soothing calm voice gave each contestant their words for two-and-a-half hours. A panel of three volunteer judges from St. Therese and St. Andrew schools joined Johannsen for the task of keeping the bee efficient and precise.The competition started with relatively simple words (future, grasp, junior) but gradually presented more challenging terms (apocalypse, supersede, potpourri, miscellaneous) for the students in grades 4-8.Jiggling legs, nervous hands, steely-eyed determination — the spellers on stage approached the microphone for their word and would often ask for definition or usage in a sentence. Girls clutched at their uniform skirts, boys thrust hands in pockets. One speller struck a runner’s “ready” pose waiting for his word. Unlike other competitions which elicit raucous cheers and whoops of encouragement from spectators, this event was punctuated with little more than soft applause for those who misspelled and were eliminated. Indeed, the hushed environment made the spelling bee more of a nail-biting experience for spellers’ cheering (so to speak) sections.“It’s a chance for students who have a spelling talent to shine,” said Lauren Perez, St. Luke (Temple City) junior high language arts teacher. “We have so many competitions for our athletes, and I am happy that we can give kids another way to show what they can do.”Yvonne Peinado, a fifth grade teacher at San Gabriel Mission School, said her school took the competition very seriously. All of the fourth through eighth grade teachers held their own spelling bees in their classrooms,” she explained. “We had many practice spelling bees inside our classrooms to help build confidence before going in front of an audience.” The top three finalists worked and studied together, made copious notes, reviewed pronunciation and spelling “rules” (whether or not “I” goes before “E”) and wrote out specific definitions. Seventh grader Elijah Gonzalez from St. Benedict (Montebello) credited his parents for helping him get this far in the competition. “They quizzed me and it got to the point where I could ‘see’ the word in my mind,” he says.The idea for the school-wide spelling bee was the brainchild of St. Therese principal Carmela Lovano who also helped organize the successful deanery-wide science fair for the past two years. In her opening remarks, she reminded students that they “already are champions for all [their] efforts.”Lovano later explained that the list of competition spelling words came from the online source Spelling Tool Box. “Children think that the short words are the easiest,” she continues. “But, homophones often confuse them. They need to ask for definitions.”That verbal confusion did cost many spellers their seats, and in the end, the competition came down to the final three: seventh grader Albert Aguilar from St. Andrew (Pasadena), eighth grader Jennifer Liu from San Gabriel Mission and fifth grader Will Sturgeon from St. Philip the Apostle (Pasadena). Back and forth the spellers went, and when the dust settled it was Sturgeon who took top honors. His winning word: jacuzzi. “It is nerve-wrecking at first when spelling the words,” Sturgeon said of approaching the microphone and standing in front of the audience. “It is surprising, but you get used to it after the second or third time spelling a new word.” His father Bill Sturgeon said the secret to Will’s success is that he “reads all the time.”Principal Lovano, pleased with the turnout and response, said she’s planning for next year’s bee. “I’d love to see student representatives from every school in our deanery,” she added.Julie Schnieders contributed to this story.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0712/sgspelling/{/gallery}