By Curt Yeomans
For Tanaeya McCoy, watching all of the television coverage of the tsunami which hit southeast Asia in December 2004, came in handy when she was standing at a microphone in Clayton County on Thursday.
She remembered seeing heavy amounts of airtime devoted to the natural disaster, and asking her grandmother what is a tsunami. More than three years later, McCoy won the Clayton County Spelling Bee at the Clayton County Performing Arts Center because she knew how to spell "t-s-u-n-a-m-i."
Of course, to McCoy, a sixth-grader at Lovejoy Middle School, the word "mononucleosis" is not difficult to spell either.
"I read the dictionary for up to three hours every night," said McCoy, who owns a thick, hardbound copy of the Oxford Dictionary.
McCoy is one of four Clayton County students, who will compete in the District 6 Spelling Bee at Mundy's Mill Middle School, 1251 Mundy's Mill Road., Jonesboro, at 10 a.m., on Saturday, Feb. 23. Kharl Colbert (sixth-grade, Kendrick Middle School) finished in second place. Edwin Benony (fifth-grade, East Clayton Elementary School), and Nation Murray (seventh-grade, Forest Park Middle School), finished in third-, and fourth-place, respectively.
There were 51 students, from Clayton County elementary and middle schools, who participated in the competition.
The final four competitors from the Clayton County Spelling Bee automatically move on to the District 6 Spelling Bee. The district winner will then continue by competing at the state level on March 21. The state champion will then compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 29, and 30, in Washington, D.C.
The early stages of the spelling bee competitions, starting at the school-level, and elevate to the state competition, are organized by the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE), and it's local organizations, such as the Clayton County Education Association (CCEA), which operates at the county level.
CCEA President Sid Chapman said it usually takes a couple of rounds, but there are always students, like Tanaeya McCoy, who begin to stand out early in the county competition. Chapman said he began to see McCoy as someone who could go far in the county spelling bee when she spelled "chimichanga" in the second round.
"You could tell she was going to be a competitor because you could see how easily the words came to her," Chapman said. "It does my heart good to see students like her do well in this competition. It's a testament to how many good students we have in this school system, and how well they are being educated by their teachers."
Ironically, "chimichanga" was also McCoy's winning word last month in the Lovejoy Middle School Spelling Bee. She said she remembered seeing the word on a food label at Wal-Mart.
"It's her nickname from now on," said Mary McCoy, Tanaeya McCoy's grandmother.
Ingrid McCoy, Tanaeya's mother, said she has her daughter read the dictionary every night because she wants to see her daughter excel in the classroom, and in life. Sometimes mother and daughter make up songs to help the younger McCoy remember the spelling and definitions of various words in the dictionary.
It has helped to make Tanaeya a spelling bee competitor. Last year, she finished third in the Clayton County Spelling Bee.
As her daughter clutched her champion's trophy moments after this year's spelling bee ended, Ingrid McCoy beamed with pride as she reflected on the weeks of studying which led up to Thursday's competition.
"She not only went over the entire list of spelling words, but she read through the entire dictionary just to be sure she didn't miss a word," Ingrid McCoy said about her daughter.
"She [Tanaeya] knows education is very important, and it is the key to having a successful future," Mary McCoy said.
Shavawn Simmons, the literacy coach at Lovejoy Middle School, was also pleased to see Tanaeya do well in the competition, but was not surprised by the victory. Simmons plans to obtain more dictionaries, with a larger selection of words, so Tanaeya, who is enrolled in all honors classes at Lovejoy Middle School, could continue to expand her vocabulary.
"Tanaeya is tenacious," Simmons said. "She's very gifted, and she is always seeking out anything that will help her succeed academically. We are extremely happy for her."