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Kathryn Wantlin earns county spelling crown for third year running

Kenny Kemp
Charleston Catholic eight graderKathryn Wantlin, 13, won the Kanawha County Spelling Bee for the third year in a row after spelling the word Nordic correct after 30 rounds Saturday. Lauren Coccari, of Sissonville Middle School was the runner-up and Rushik Patel of Ruthlawn Elementary School came in third place.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kathryn Wantlin stepped to the microphone 30 times Saturday at the 57th annual Kanawha County Spelling Bee.Shalee, her mother, was nervous every time.Even though Kathryn is a top-notch speller -- the eighth-grader from Charleston Catholic High School took top honors at the county bee for the third straight year -- her mom has more than the average parental jitters."I cannot help her much," she said. "I am not an English speaker."Kathryn's mother is Chinese. Her command of English seems good, but helping Kathryn study in her non-native language is a challenge. The mom thinks her daughter's voracious reading and diligent studying both at home and at school are the keys to her spelling success.The soft-spoken Kathryn, an avid piano player who wants to be a doctor or an engineer when she grows up, had a simple answer for her success."I just like to memorize things," she said as she clutched the trophy she earned for winning the bee.She does love to ready fantasy novels, especially the Harry Potter series. ("Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," the second of the seven books in the series, was her favorite.)But the language challenge doesn't keep her mom from helping. The two will work from some of her textbooks occasionally, Kathryn said. However, she usually studies in solitude. Kathryn said she spend 30 to 45 minutes a day reading through word lists. She tries to find new words but comes back to familiar ones as well.She came face to face with an old word, "nordic," in the championship round of the bee Saturday afternoon at South Charleston High School. As soon as pronouncer Kennie Bass, a television anchor for WCHS, said the word, Kathryn knew she had the victory.It was the 278th word of the day and the 30th for Kathryn to spell correctly.More than 60 other spellers in grades four through eight challenged Kathryn for her crown, none more so than Lauren Coccari.
The eighth-grader from Sissonville Middle School has squared off against Kathryn in the finals for each of the last three years, both spellers pushing each other on.While Lauren couldn't conquer "edification" in the 29th round on Saturday, she was able to outlast Ruthlawn Elementary School fifth-grader Rushik Patel for second place.Lauren has faired well in previous competitions and spelling bee coordinator Barbara Jones was impressed by her effort."For three years, those girls have been first place and runner-up," Jones said. "They were very meticulous in their spelling.""Meticulous" accurately describes Kathryn's strategy at the mic. Even if she knows how to spell a word as soon as the judge says it, she still likes to go through her routine.She asks the pronouncer to use the word in a sentence and give her the word's definition and language of origin. Her advice for other spelling bee contenders is simple.
"Just spell slowly," Kathryn said.She'll try to use those techniques to her advantage when she competes against students from 22 other counties in the Gazette-Mail Regional Spelling Bee later this year. Lauren will represent Kanawha County as well, as two students from each county qualify for the event.Kathryn's mom said her daughter didn't fare as well as she hoped in her first trip to the regional bee, but she's pretty sure Kathryn advanced to the sixth round last year. Both are confident Kathryn will do even better this year."I am definitely going to study a lot," Kathryn said.Serving as judges on Saturday were Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom; retired State Police officer Raymond Stonestreet; and Eva Ledbetter, a mentor with Kanawha County Schools.The regional bee is scheduled for March 16 at Capital High School. It is co-sponsored by the College Foundation of West Virginia ( and the West Virginia Automobile and Truck Dealers Association.The SMART529 program again will award the regional champion with a $2,500 college savings account, and the event will be televised by WSAZ's MyZ TV.The regional champion will represent the Gazette-Mail in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, held every spring near Washington, D.C.Contact Dave Boucher at 304-343-4843 or Follow him at
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