By Curt Yeomans
Lovejoy Middle School seventh-grader, Tanaeya McCoy, had to think about the word "pochismo" for a few moments Friday, in the second round of the Georgia Association of Educators' state spelling bee in Atlanta.
She asked Georgia State University Associate Professor Philo Hutcheson to repeat the word. Then McCoy asked for the language of origin. It was Spanish, Hutcheson told her. She then asked Hutcheson to use it in a sentence, and he did as she asked.
Then, McCoy gave her answer. "Pochismo, P-O-C-H-I-S-M-O, Pochismo!" she said.
"Correct," Hutcheson said, causing several members of the audience to gasp.
McCoy was one of 20 students from across Georgia who competed in the state spelling bee at Georgia State University's Student Center. She was the 16th person eliminated, or in other words, she was among the top-five spellers at the competition.
Georgia Association of Educators Spokesman Kevin Pearson said although the group recognizes the spelling bee winner and runner-up, it does not give place finishes to the other competitors. If the association did name place finishes for the other students, McCoy would have been in fifth place.
Julia Denniss, a 12-year-old student at Atlanta-based St. Jude the Apostle School, was the state spelling bee winner. Denniss will represent Georgia in May at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.
McCoy quickly dispatched most of her words, like the German word, "G-E-S-U-N-D-H-E-I-T." But it was a plant-related word, "N-E-C-T-A-R-I-V-O-R-O-U-S," which stopped her in the final round of competition.
After the competition, McCoy fought back tears, but vowed: "I'm going to be back here next year."
The spelling bee process begins in December, with the local school spelling bees. School systems hold their district-wide spelling bees, made up of the winners from each school, in January. The top four students from each school system advance to their regional spelling bee in February, and the top two spellers in each region advance to the state spelling bee.
Only the state's top speller advances to the national spelling bee.
"I can't say enough about what these young people have accomplished," said Georgia Association of Educators President Jeff Hubbard. "Everyone associated with their efforts should be very proud, and on behalf of GAE, I congratulate each and every one of them."
After the spelling bee, McCoy received encouragement in the lobby of Georgia State's Student Center from her mother, Ingrid, and officials from Lovejoy Middle School, including Principal Keith Colbert, language arts teacher Yolanda Scott, and media specialist Lora Wood.
Scott and Wood are two of McCoy's spelling coaches. "Her performance shows her stick-to-itiveness, and her ability to overcome fear," Scott said, referring to past spelling bees in which McCoy began to hyperventilate while trying to spell words. "I don't think I saw her break her confidence once today [Friday]."
Students cannot participate in the annual spelling competition after the eighth grade, so next year will be McCoy's last shot at earning a trip to the national spelling bee. Scott and Wood said they were ready to begin working McCoy to prepare for next year's round of competitions as soon as the student was ready to begin her preparations.
"It's up to her," Wood said. "It depends on when she wants to begin preparing for next year."
As McCoy looked at the ground and wiped tears from her face, her mother wrapped her arms around her and told the younger McCoy how proud she was of her performance at the spelling bee.
"You have nothing to feel terrible about," Ingrid McCoy said as she smiled at her daughter. "You did so well, you were one of the last few kids on that stage. I'm very proud of you. There's always next year."