There’s a moment when golfers lift their putters and celebrate prior to the ball dropping in the cup.
At the regional First Coast Spelling Bee, Clay County champion Erik Williams didn’t gloat when he heard the announcer tell him to spell, “Dalliance,” but the feeling was similar.
After defeating 13 other contestants in Jacksonville, his next stop is the Scripps National Spelling Bee in the nation’s capital.
“It was amazing because when I heard the winning word. I had heard it before. I knew I was going to get it right,” Williams said. “I was just super happy and so excited that I was going to Washington, D.C.”
Williams, 11, is a sixth-grader at St. Johns Country Day School. He won the Clay County Spelling Bee last year after an exhausting 59 rounds, though he finished second at regionals. He repeated at Clay’s spelling champion last month, ending the 17-round competition with a correct spelling of “Piazza.”
No matter the word, Williams asked for definition and country of origin. Spelling competitively is more about language patterns and roots rather than rote memorization, he said.
“Definition helps if you already know what the word means because it’s hard when you just have what the word sounds like,” Williams said. “[For country of origin], it’s just patterns for the language that help.”
The lists provided usually have 1,100 words, which means Williams will spell on the fly. Williams practices regularly with his mother Annica.
“You never know what they’re going to throw at you. There’s a lot of words [on the list],” she said. “You can only get so far with memorizing, so what we worked in the past year was language, patterns and roots.”
A change in venue from Florida Theatre last year to Jacksonville University’s Swisher Theatre put Williams more at ease. A local news station had a camera swinging around, which Williams and his mother jokingly referred to as the “scary camera.”
“I felt a little intimidated, the Florida Theatre was huge and had balcony seating,” Williams said. “[The camera] just hovers around.”
St. Johns Country Day School Acting Head of School, Mary Virginia Fisher, said she and school staff were proud of Williams’ accomplishments.
"He worked so hard preparing for the First Coast Spelling Bee, and we're so happy that he now has the opportunity to compete against the rest of the nation's best in Washington, DC.," Fisher said.
Williams credited his avid reading habit for boosted his knowledge of words and spelling ability. He also stays busy by playing baseball and participating in Math Counts. He has two more years to retain the crown in Clay, and the possibility to never spell a word wrong in four consecutive county spelling bees. He said the goal each year is to advance further than the last.
“Last year, I came in second in regionals, this year I made it to nationals. In 7th and 8th grade, I hope to make it to nationals again,” Williams said. “Three years in a row would be amazing. I think it would be a really great experience.”