The final two contestants for the 2018 Calhoun County Spelling Bee couldn’t have differed more in their approach.
Faith Christian’s winner, Luke McVeigh, would often ask for his word’s definition, its language of origin and inquire about any alternate pronunciations.
Piedmont Middle School winner Hunter Gilliam, more often than not, would immediately start burning through the letters.
Gilliam and McVeigh would go back and forth in the final segment for more than 11 minutes.
Gilliam took the title with the word “divergent.”
Organizer Jeff Moon, a language arts teacher at Jacksonville City Schools, said there’s no question that the competition is tough.
“I’m proud of each and every one of these kids because it's not an easy thing to get to,” he said.
Thirty-two contestants came to Anniston Middle School Thursday for the bee, each one a winner at his or her respective school. They spelled words including “forlorn,” “quesadilla,” “stipple” and “wikiwiki,” a word from Hawaiian that means “quick.”
Stepping off the stage as the winner Thursday, Gilliam said he was surprised by his victory. The middle schooler left with more than bragging rights, though. The Elks Lodge No. 189, a sponsor of the tournament, presented Gilliam with a check for $75. McVeigh received a $50 prize and runner-up Ahmad Fareed, the middle school winner from the Iqra Math and Science Academy, got a $25 check.
Asked how he prepared, Gilliam said he studied the night before and on the drive to the competition.
As Gilliam came off stage, a handful of family members greeted him with hugs and pats on the back.
His mother, Kristen Gilliam, said she thought she might have a heart attack watching her son compete.
“I’m one proud momma — even when he corrects my grammar,” she said.