Impossible. No, that’s too easy a word for Gilbert home-school student Jonathan Horton. Osphresis is a better term for the eighth-grader trying to complete an academic triple crown this weekend.
Jonathan already won a state math competition on March 17 and will now challenge his peers in the state geography bee on Friday and the state spelling bee on Saturday.
A spelling title would be his third in a row. Jonathan, 14, won the 2006 bee with the word “osphresis,” which means the sense of smell.
“I’m excited to get out there,” Jonathan said. “I think I can win again, but one word you’ve never seen before can mess it all up.”
Jonathan will compete at Arizona State University against 26 other fourth- through eighth-grade spellers, including six from the East Valley. The winner will earn a spot May 30 in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.
He is anxious for a chance to return to the national stage after a sixth-place tie last year. However, Jonathan must first deal with the Arizona Geographic Bee on Friday at ASU.
He is Arizona’s only student who qualified for both bees.
The geography bee will include 100 finalists from across the state, including 42 from the East Valley who all passed a written test after winning their school geography bees.
“We must have a pretty smart section of the state,” Jonathan said.
He studies extensively for both bees and said the geography bee is the most difficult to prepare for.
“They can have questions about anything, anywhere,” Jonathan said. “Even about a planet from another galaxy.”
He hopes to finish well in the geography bee but said he concentrates more on spelling. He practices thousands of words and reviews the ones he misses at least three more times.
Other students dread spelling against him. Michelle Horton, Jonathan’s mother and teacher, said contestants sometimes groan when he enters the room.
“It’s like some of the others think they can’t win,” she said.
A distinct spelling style also sets Jonathan apart. With a slow, methodical pace, he whispers every letter into his closed fist before repeating the letters aloud. It’s a strategy that has increased his profile in the spelling world.
“He’s definitely one of the most distinct spellers that we’ve ever had,” said Paige Kimble, director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
“But besides his style, he’s got charm.”
Jonathan said strangers have stopped him in airports, malls and restaurants because they recognize him from the national bee, which is televised on ESPN.
Barrie Trinkle, author of “How to Spell Like a Champ,” said she noticed Jonathan at one of her book signings and pointed him out to the crowd. Afterward, Jonathan said people asked for his autograph.
“He’s a great young speller,” said Trinkle, who sits on the national bee’s word panel. “I was very pleased to see him there, even though he absolutely doesn’t need the book.”
However, some people call Jonathan’s method a stalling tactic. Jonathan promises it isn’t.
“It helps me make sure it’s the letter I really want to say,” he said. “We can’t take a letter back after we say it.”
If spelling and math weren’t enough, Jonathan placed first in the state MATHCOUNTS contest and will travel to Fort Worth, Texas, in May to represent Arizona in the national competition.
Horton fits studying for the bees around his regular class time and works on Saturdays. But on Sundays, Horton rests. In his spare time, he enjoys video games, reading and anything involving basketball — especially watching the Phoenix Suns.
“He needs to have those breaks,” Michelle Horton said. “Other things are important and if he doesn’t win, it doesn’t ruin his life.”
Arizona Geographic Bee
When: Noon Friday
Where: Memorial Union, Arizona State University in Tempe
Arizona Spelling Bee
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: KAET-TV (Channel 8) Studio A, Stauffer Hall, B Wing, ASU
Broadcasts: 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. April 18, 4:30 a.m. April 23 and 2 p.m. April 29 on Channel 8