Two Healdsburg students co-championed the North Sonoma County Regional Spelling Competition in Santa Rosa earlier this month. Fitch Mountain Elementary School fifth grader Lily Villano and St. John the Baptist Catholic School sixth grader Gavin Curran, demonstrated their spelling skills at the competition, held March 5.
A humble winner, Lily Villano said at first she was nervous going into the round but was surprised and excited to win.
“I won because I made it through the round and at the last two it was going too long so me and a sixth grader tied for first place,” she said. “I was really nervous.”
Some of the trickier words she had to spell were temperance and hieroglyphs — words that this reporter had to double check-in the dictionary when typing them out.
Gavin Curran said a challenging word that he had to spell was “incontrovertible.”
Lily Villano, an avid reader and speller, said it felt really good to win.
“I did not expect to win,” she said.
Gavin Curran was also surprised to win and said it felt really good to be the co-champion.
Since there was only one trophy, Gavin Curran let Lily Villano take home the gold.
“There was only one trophy and she (Lily) wanted it so I just let her have it and they are going to give one to the school,” Gavin Curran said.
This particular round consisted of 40 students representing various schools throughout Northern Sonoma County.
“Basically the students were whittled down word by word until they got to the last five and the last five guranteed a space in the next round, which is county-wide,” said Lily’s mom, Nikki Villano.
The person who recites the words to the contestants is called the “spell master” and there are three other judges who make sure the words are pronounced correctly.
The students are allowed to ask to hear the word in a sentence, and to hear the definition. They can also write it down before they spell it out loud.
While Lily Villano didn’t study too much before the spelling bee, Nikki Villano said she learns a lot of words through reading.
“For her, the best way to study is through reading,” she said.
Gavin Curran said they were given a list of words before the contest.
“They give us a list so I studied that,” he said.
After Lily Villano was named co-champion they celebrated by going out to dinner at Agave, her favorite restaurant in Healdsburg.
Gavin Curran said his mom, Karina Curran, was in the audience cheering him on throughout the compeition and gave him a big “congratulations” after the event was over.
“She said I did a really good job,” Gavin Curran said.
Lily Villano said one of her favorite parts of the competition was being able to measure herself against older competitors.
“I liked testing myself against a bunch of sixth graders,” she said.
Lily Villano said she is excited for the next round if it is held, and that her family is excited for her.
“We are thrilled for her, she is just a really remarkable kid and it is wonderful to see her celebrated and for her friends in school to be so supportive, so I am so excited for her,” Nikki Villano said. “She is humbly smart and she has always loved to read and she is curious, she’s just so remarkable, I am so in love with her.”
Nikki Villano added that her daughter has always had a love for reading and writing and that she also enjoys drawing.
“She has always been into books and reading, it helps that her dad is a writer, and I am a total geek as well, I’m an archeologist and I love to read,” Nikki Villano said. Nikki Villano teachers anthropology at the Santa Rosa Junior College.
When asked how participating in the spelling bee is beneficial for her daughter, Nikki Villano said that it is a good confidence-booster.
“I think more than anything, it is a really good way for her to increase her self-confidence and to celebrate being a girl and being smart,” Nikki Villano said.
She added that the event also evokes a good sense of camaraderie since all of the other kids support each other. “But I think it is really nice to be celebrated for hard work and creativity and intelligence and I think that is a great thing,” Nikki Villano said.