It was the only word separating Anthony Bryant and Savannah Young from victory in the third division of the West Side Beat the Street spelling bee.
Savannah, chosen to spell first, sighed. “A-C-Q-U-A-I-N-T…”
She paused and then concluded. “E-N-C-E.”
Missed by a single letter.
Anthony was next. He got the third A. He won the spelldown.
His win in the Beat the Street bee was part of a bigger victory. Organizer Danette King, whose nonprofit group Young Creative Minds worked since February to bring the two-day competition together, hopes to make this spelling bee an annual event.
“I want it to become a staple of the West Side. I want students to actually look forward to competing and learning new words every year. That’s my goal,” King told Austin Weekly News.
The event was held April 10 and 11 at Ronald E. McNair Elementary School, 4820 W. Walton.
King began pitching the idea to local nonprofit groups and political figures in February.
“It was a real challenge obtaining financing. But we were fortunate to find sponsors to believe in these kids,” King said.
“Alderman Emma Mitts was very supportive of the project, as was the Westside Health Authority and Park National Bank, who all provided sponsorship either financial or with volunteers donating time,” King said.
“It was a group effort.”
Before she could even distribute study packets to schools, for King needed to find a venue for the activities. She requested the use of the gym at McNair, but because of spring break, McNair Principal Shirley Dillard voiced doubts initially.
“I thought it would be impossible to make the building accessible to hold the competition, but I had a teacher and an engineer volunteer their time during the break … so it worked out,” Dillard said.
King sent word packets and applications to dozens of schools. An average of 10 students participated in each of the four divisions: third and fourth grade, fifth and sixth grade, seventh and eighth grade, and ninth and 10th grade.
For a host, King reached out to comedian Caliph, whose material has neither foul language nor societal observation.
“I have five kids myself,” Caliph said. “I know how important it is to have events like this to keep them stimulated throughout the semester.”
Each group crowned a first, second and third place winner.
“I’m not used to losing, but I’m happy with how I performed. Second place isn’t so bad,” said Savannah, an eighth grader at May Elementary.
Savannah got an iPod for finishing second. Anthony won a laptop for finishing first. Third place finisher Laretha Johnson got a gift certificate.
“It feels good to win but I was a little nervous,” said Anthony, a seventh grader at Nash Elementary.
“I studied for two weeks and felt pretty confident though. I enjoy reading and spelling words so I had a great time today. It was a really good experience.”
Along with the competitions, the event featured a performance by Exodus Drum & Bugle Corps and music by West Side-based deejay DJ Talent.
“I am eternally grateful to all of those who contributed toward making this competition a reality,” King said.