HANFORD — The 2017 Kings County Spelling Bee began Tuesday morning with first-graders from around the county competing. There were laughs, silliness and even a little bit of crying as 20 Kings County students spelled words of varying difficulty.

“It went well,” said spell master Jeff Frasieur. “We had a really good group of first-graders; they were pretty much all good spellers.”

Frasieur said some of the students were nervous, but for the most part they were eager and excited to be at the bee. He said he had fun and was impressed by the first-grade students. With the younger kids, Frasieur said he always has trouble with them stepping up to the microphone, but this year he said they all did great and spoke loud enough for everyone to hear.

Spelling Bee coordinator Leana Cantrell said the first session with the first-graders went great. She said she was excited to see the kids because it is their first time competing in the bee.

“They were so excited,” Cantrell said. “Every time they would spell a word right, you could just see it on their faces.”

In the end, there was only one winner, and it was Jaxon Mendoza from Kings River-Hardwick School. Armona Union Academy student Christopher Lapuebla came in second place, and Adrina Stafforini from Monroe Elementary School came in third place.

Cantrell said it was the first time every first-grade contestant made it through the entire first round without misspelling a word. By the end of the competition, Cantrell said they almost had to move into the second-grade words because the first-graders had spelled so many of their words correctly.

The last two spellers, Jaxon and Christopher, went back and forth for many rounds, Frasieur said, and they were only about eight words away from getting into the second-grade words.

The first-grade session of the Spelling Bee lasted 2 ½ hours, which Cantrell said is typical of other grades but usually not typical for contestants this young. She said the amount of time for the bee was indicative of the high level the students were competing at.

When it was down to just Jaxon and Christopher, Cantrell said when they finally had a winner, both students were happy for one another and gave each other high-fives because they were excited for each other.

“The first-place winner [Jaxon] started out a little shy,” Cantrell said. “The more he progressed throughout the competition, the more confidence he got in himself. It was cool.”

Frasieur said his favorite part of the job is seeing the looks on the kids’ faces when they spell a word right, especially when he can tell they’re not sure of how to spell the word. Several weeks before the competition, the students are given a list of words to study.

The students are also allowed to use a pencil and paper to write the word out before they spell it, because sometimes it’s hard for young kids to spell words just from their minds. Frasieur said Jaxon surprised him because he never wrote down any of the words he was spelling.

“A lot of times, the kid who doesn’t write anything down doesn’t go that far,” Frasieur said. “But he won. That was impressive. He just seemed so at ease the whole time. He did a good job.”

Vivian Bouit was at the first-grade round of the bee with her son Aiden, who was set to compete in the second-grade round Tuesday afternoon. She said she was impressed with the first-grade students and how well they did

“I actually overheard the ladies in the front who [judge] and they were very impressed also,” Bouit said.

Bouit said she and her son were at the first round of the Spelling Bee to support Christopher, who goes to school with Aiden at Armona Union Academy. She said Aiden had also competed at the bee last year. She said she is proud of the students who compete, no matter if they win or lose.

“The time and the dedication they put into this — all of these kids today — it’s to be admired,” Bouit said, adding she just doesn’t want her son to be disappointed if he doesn’t win.

All spellers were awarded a medal and a Black Bear Diner gift certificate for a free kids meal after they were eliminated, Cantrell said. She also said every Spelling Bee participant, including alternates, received a certificate of participation and a treat bag.

Frasieur may be the spell master, but he said his main job is to get the students to relax. He said it could be scary even for students who have competed in the Spelling Bee before. He said his goal is to ease the tension and make the students smile or even laugh. He said he was looking forward to the second-graders and the rest of the grades to compete throughout the week.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Frasieur said. “I really like these kids. I really like working with them.”

Cantrell said she anticipated excellent spelling and moving into more difficult words as the competition moves on.

“It just seems like every year they get better and better,” Cantrell said.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2423 or jzavala@hanfordsentinel.com

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