Lake Ridge Elementary School fourth-grader, Makhi Simpson, was filled with nervousness, moments before he threw his fists in the air in a show of victorious celebration, at the Clayton County Spelling Bee, on Thursday.
Simpson, 9, was nervous because, in those few moments, there was only one thing standing between him, and a county-level spelling bee championship — the word "i-n-c-r-e-m-e-n-t-a-l."
He slowly said each letter of the word with a bit of trepidation in his voice, and then, there was just the briefest moment of silence and suspense, before the judges proclaimed him this year's champion.
"I was sweating while I was spelling the word, but it felt good when they announced I won," Simpson said. "It's really hard [during the competition], because you might think you spelled the word wrong, when you were actually correct."
Simpson came out on top at a Clayton County Education Association-sponsored spelling bee that ended up lasting nearly three hours. It was held at the Clayton County Performing Arts Center. Simpson, and three other top spellers from the bee, will advance to the Georgia Association of Educators' District Five Spelling Bee, on Feb. 26, at Mundy's Mill Middle School, in Jonesboro.
The Clayton County Education Association is the local branch of the Georgia Association of Educators.
Simpson will be joined at the District Five Spelling Bee Clayton County's first runner-up, Christina Onuoha, an eighth-grader at Kendrick Middle School; second runner-up, Nikko White, an eighth-grader at Rex Mill Middle School, and third runner-up Abdul Mia, a fifth-grader at Lee Street Elementary School.
Samantha Romero, a seventh-grader at Adamson Middle School, will serve as an alternate for Clayton County Schools, if one of the top four spellers is unable to attend the district contest. Romero finished as the fifth-best speller.
Simpson has some big shoes to fill. Clayton County students have won the last two District Five championships, and gone on to finish no worse than sixth-place in state competition.
"I want to make it to the National Spelling Bee [in Washington D.C.], and win that," Simpson said. He said he prepared for the county-level bee practicing a list of 275 words each night for the last two weeks. The hardest word he's learned to spell, so far, is "b-i-b-l-i-o-t-h-e-c-a-r-i-a-l," he said. "First, I look at the word, and study it," he said. "Then, I try to spell the word without looking at my list. I am going to add some words to my list, and study longer now."
His mother, Danee Simpson, said she was nervous, watching her son, but added that she would have been proud of him, even if he had not come out on top. "I was proud of him from the beginning, to the end," she said. "He was going up against eighth-graders and doing well. What else can I be, other than proud?"
Danee Simpson said she uses one of the oldest forms of positive reinforcement a parent can use on a child to encourage harder work and better performances: bribery. "It's a lot of bribery," with promises of "If you win this, you will get whatever you want," she said.
As the proud mother and her son prepared to leave the Performing Arts Center after the spelling bee was over, she turned to the youngster and asked, "So, what do you want me to get you for winning the spelling bee?"
Makhi Simpson did not hold back in his ambition. His response prompted surprised looks from his mother, a teacher from his school, and county spelling bee organizers.
"An ATV [All-Terrain Vehicle]!" he exclaimed.