Jeremiah McDowell sets Verde Valley standard in Yavapai County Spelling Bee

Cottonwood Middle School sixth grader Jeremiah McDowell, 11, made it into round 4 of the Yavapai County Spelling Bee Wednesday at Glassford Hill Middle School in Prescott Valley. Photo courtesy of Prescott Valley Tribune<br/>

Cottonwood Middle School sixth grader Jeremiah McDowell, 11, made it into round 4 of the Yavapai County Spelling Bee Wednesday at Glassford Hill Middle School in Prescott Valley. Photo courtesy of Prescott Valley Tribune<br/>

Cottonwood Middle School sixth grader Jeremiah McDowell, 11, made it into round 4 of the Yavapai County Spelling Bee Wednesday at Glassford Hill Middle School in Prescott Valley. This was McDowell's fourth year to compete in the bee as his school champion.

Thirteen-year-old Michela Hardin was the picture of calm each time she stepped up to the microphone during the 64th annual Bee.

Hardin, a Prescott Valley Liberty Traditional School seventh grader, said before the competition that she wanted to remember to slow down and take a deep breath before she spelled each word. She did just that through the first four rounds with such words as "foyer," "caribou," "meticulous," and "amicable."

The words were difficult, and one after another, nervous spellers from grades three through eight stumbled over their words.

By round 5, only Hardin, Sofia Ruster-Villa, 13, a Prescott Mile High Middle School eighth grader, Miranda Racine, 10, a Chino Valley Del Rio Elementary School fifth grader, and Daxton Bryce, 10, a fifth grader from Abia Judd Elementary School in Prescott, remained on stage.

The four quickly sorted out the top spots. Bryce went down on "eclectic." Racine then misspelled "belfry." Harden correctly spelled "azure," and Ruster-Villa hit it right on with "parapet."

National rules dictated that the two fifth graders spell off for third and fourth places. They went three rounds on such words as "tarragon," "bowery," "patina," and "springbok," until Bryce correctly spelled "ghoul," and Racine missed "bellicose." Bryce then had to correctly spell "pronounceable," to cement his third place.

Now it was time for the two 13-year-olds to see who would be the 2010 Yavapai County Spelling Bee champion. It only took one round. Hardin correctly spelled "allegro," and Ruster-Villa misspelled "diphthong."

Hardin stepped up and spelled "impetuous" for the win. She then covered her face with her hands as the realization that she was the champion hit her. Calm fled, and she jumped up and down, grinning and excitedly declaring, "I'm going to state!"

Hardin received a $500 savings bond for her win from major sponsors M&I Bank in Prescott Valley. Vice Pres. Bob Sebring, along with Yavapai County School Supt. Tim Carter, presented the top four winners with awards from the bank.

Hardin will advance to the Arizona State Spelling Bee on Saturday, March 27 at Arizona State University's KAET studio.

JoLynne Richter, who has pronounced for the bee for 26 years, as usual brought her own brand of humor to ease the kids' nerves and bring a few laughs from the audience. She took a few jabs at modern technology, reminding the youths that "what you do when you text is NOT spelling!"

Judges for this year's bee included Prescott First Congregational Church Pastor Jane Cheek, Prescott City Councilwoman Tammy Linn, and Northern Arizona University Professor Emeritus Ray Newton.

Fifty-two schools in Yavapai County, including public, charter, private and home school groups sent their school champions to the bee.

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