ORANGE PARK – Rialto is a word that means theater district. But for a St. Johns County Day seventh grader, it’s a word that will send him to the First Coast Regionals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
For the third consecutive year, the Clay County District will be represented by Erik Williams. He took eight rounds to outlast 37 other elementary and junior high students at Discovery Oaks Elementary last Wednesday. And he won it in the championship round by correctly spelling “rialto.”
Williams now will compete at the Regional Spelling Bee on Feb. 27 at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.
Ryan Lydon of Annunciation Catholic got the first word of the night – shake. Eleven students eventually were eliminated in the first round.
By the end of three rounds, the field was whittled to 17 spellers.
Three rounds later, there were only six.
The final four included Williams, Eric Franklin of Oakleaf Junior High, Jai’dra Glover of Plantation Oaks Elementary and Sophia Cheshire of Green Cove Springs Junior High. Glover was knocked out of the seventh round by the word “eradicate,” while Cheshire was eliminated by “oculus.” They finished tied for third place.
Williams (dishevel) and Franklin (dubiously) both correctly spelled their seventh-round words, but Franklin missed on “circuitous” in the eighth round. Williams correctly spelled “syndicate” and followed that up in the championship round with rialto.
A year ago, Williams won the county tournament in the 59th round with the word “piazza.”
The first National Spelling Bee was held in 1925. Students are given 4,000 words to study.
Regional winners will advance to the national finals at Fort Washington, Maryland, from May 24-29.
Last year, eight students survived all 20 rounds and were declared co-winners.
Williams always asked for a word’s definition and origin, as well as using the word in a sentence. He said 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 last year. “[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.”