Gustavo Dominguez is the new champion speller of Clarke County.
The Burney-Harris-Lyons Middle School seventh-grader correctly spelled “gazpacho” and “diesel” to claim the prize during Thursday’s county spelling bee at Clarke Central High School.
Runner-up Yerahm Hong faltered on “keelhaul” after surviving 21 earlier rounds and may feel a little like the Buffalo Bills of spelling – this was the third time the Clarke Middle School eighth-grader took home the second-place trophy in the bee.
The daughter of Korean parents, Yerahm, traced letters on her palm with a finger as she spelled such tough words as “lassitude,” “coppice” and “cicerone.”
Gustavo, 12, had his share of hard words, too, including one which pronouncer Carl Schmidt thought he’d mispronounced: “panegyric.”
The last elementary school student standing was Chase Street Elementary’s Isaac Bergman, cut down by “sanguine” in the ninth round.
That left only Gustavo, Yerahm and the third-place winner, Hilsman Middle School’s Ella Johnson, who correctly spelled “variegated,” “junco,” “verdigris” and 12 other words before “mascara” tripped her up in the 16th round.
Gustavo and Yerahm made it through five more rounds of perfect spelling and mounting tension before “keelhaul” finally keelhauled Yerahm.
“I’m so proud of him,” said Gustavo’s mother, Laura Miranda, as she waited to sign the paperwork for her son to go to the GAE’s district spelling bee in Eatonton on Feb. 24. The state spelling bee follows in March. Yerahm will be the county’s alternate representative.
Miranda is a server at Athens’ Sr. Sol restaurants, while her husband, Joaquin Dominguez, is a handyman, she said.
Gustavo practiced for about an hour a day in the time between his school spelling bee and the county bee, using a pronouncing computer program, he said.
That wasn’t very long, because the school spelling bee was twice delayed, on Jan. 11 by a scheduling conflict and then on Jan. 18 by a snow day, said Burney-Harris-Lyons media specialist Anne McLeod.
He is now reading Kate DiCamillo’s “The Tale of Despereaux” and lists as one of his recent favorites last year’s “Turtles All the Way Down” by John Green.
Gustavo said after the bee that he actually doesn’t read a lot, a claim disputed by his mother.
“I remember when he was in the fourth and fifth grades, he was always reading, reading, reading,” she said. “Sometimes we had to tell him to take a break.”
Gustavo also plays in the Athens Philharmonia Orchestra, so practice on the double bass competes for his time nowadays.
Here are the words he spelled on the way to become champion speller of Clarke County: Scrabble, barrow, amputation, flabbergasted, strenuous, gargoyle, conspicuous, appendectomy, annexation, cypress, concierge, panegyric, supercilious, cabochon, affinity, patriarch, teriyaki, amarillo, quell, barrage, macadamia, nebbish, gazpacho and diesel.