ASHTABULA — For the second year in a row, Ashtabula Area fifth-grader Matthew Dufour is the county’s spelling bee champion.

Eight of the best spellers from around the county met Wednesday for the county’s 2018 Area V Spelling Bee, hosted at the Ashtabula County Educational Service Center.

After 21 rounds of increasingly difficult and obscure words — like “stevedores,” verdigris,” “isobar,” “oolong,” “lariat” and “glasnost” — Dufour outlasted seven other contestants from around the county, including Jefferson Area seventh-grader Evan Valtman, who ended in second place and was also last year’s runner-up, and Chloe O’Rourke, a St. John School sixth-grader who ended in third.

“I couldn’t have done this without my parents. And God and Jesus were with me,” said a beaming Dufour, who could be seen between each round with hands clasped, praying silently.

Valtman, who battled Dufour mano a mano for 10 rounds, stumbled in the 20th round on “diphthong,” in which the “PH” are pronounced as an “F”. Valtman asked for the word’s pronunciation, which might have made the answer trickier, he said.

“I just wasn’t really sure about that ‘F’ sound,” he said, clutching the second place trophy.

O’Rourke lasted until the ninth round, failing the word “uncoquettish.” She was erroneously disqualified in the sixth round on the word “brigands,” but that was reversed when the judge panel realized they had given her word in a sentence instead of a definition for the word, as she asked.

At round 10, Dufour and Valtman showed no signs of weakness.

“I think we should get our pillows and blankets now. We’re going to be here a long time,” joked first-year bee coordinator Denise Hunt, also the center’s gifted coordinator.

For Hunt, the bee isn’t just about the English language.

“I wanted to make sure the students knew that there’s more lessons than just spelling happening here,” she told the Star Beacon. “It’s another opportunity for kids to get up in front of an audience and be able to speak in public. It’s a good practice. It’s a good life skill to have.

“I think they’re nervous in front of an audience, so when I pick up on that, I make sure I work that in with a little humor.”

Dufour, last year’s

bee winner, advanced to the tri-county bee in May 2017, which feeds into the national

competition. Though he and his family practice the more than 1,000 official bee words each night, about 7 hours a week, his game was “off” at the tri-county bee and he mispelled “collage.”

At the time, he was recovering from the stomach flu, said his mother Danielle. But Dufour said he’s raring for another shot at the national bee at this year’s tri-county competition in May.

“We’ve studied, like, so hard this time,” he told the Star Beacon. “We go through the entire list in one or two days, but we’ll pay a lot more attention to the words that I miss when we go through it. We’ll spell it 10 times and do it again and again until I get better at it.”

Other contestants included: Ava Chapin, a Grand Valley

seventh-grader; Dennis Dixon III, a Geneva

Area eighth-grader; Gabrielle Farmer, a Pymatuning Valley sixth-grader; Ava Georgia, a Conneaut Area fifth-grader; and Ella Sloan, a Buckeye Local seventh-grader.

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