Marcus Behling studied all the words he was told to, but he knew the Chandler Unified School District spelling bee would come down to a word not on the distributed list.
Sure enough, in the 13th round last week — after five rounds of a three-person race — the Arizona College Prep-Erie seventh-grader separated himself from Christopher Smith, last year’s district winner, and Isha Paode with the correct spelling of nectarivorous.
“There definitely was more pressure and more nerves when they went off list to words I hadn’t studied for,” Behling said. “I think maybe I’d studied that word once before but had forgotten it. It was kind of a guess. I just pieced it together.”
Behling then correctly spelled “patronymic” to seal his title.
“I didn’t know that word either,” he said. “The definition helped, and the Latin root. I had to decide between ‘inymic’ or ‘onymic.’ I just went with my gut.
“I’d spent months preparing for this. Hard work paid off.”
Behling will next compete in the Maricopa County Region 6 spelling bee Feb. 21 in Queen Creek. Smith (ACP-Oakland), Paode (Willis Junior High), Alexandra Wilhelm (Knox Elementary), Kiersten Rule (Fulton Elementary), Alec Mathew (Chandler Traditional Academy-Independence), Breezy Hill (Santan Elementary), Rachel Fullerton (Santan Junior High), and Christopher Perkins (Payne Junior High) also advanced to the region competition.
“It’s going to be much more of a challenge,” Behling said of the region bee, from which the top two will move on to the March 29 state competition.
“There are going to be a lot of hard words and it won’t be down to the top two before they go off list. … I’m estimating there will still be five to seven people left when they go off list.”
Memorizing Latin and Green roots is the key for Behling, who is quizzed on different words by his mom in the car or over breakfast. It is a process that already proved successful.
Behling’s older brother, Mitchell, won the district spelling bee in 2009, 2010 and 2011; he won state in 2011.
“I’m sort of continuing the legacy,” Marcus Behling said. “I don’t know if I’m as skilled as him yet. But I’m studying a lot of words and trying to master them.”
Marcus, who enjoys soccer and video games between study sessions, hopes to follow in his brother’s shoes and compete in the nationally televised national spelling bee that comes with a state championship.
Though logistically this year would be better than next.
“If I go to nationals next year,” he said, “it will be on the day of my brother’s graduation so that will be interesting.”
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