For Leilah Bedford, the second time turned out to be the charm.
The Kingston Elementary fifth-grader was crowned the spelling champion of the county Friday morning at the 60th annual Bartow County Spelling Bee at the Clarence Brown Conference Center in Cartersville after representing her school in the contest last year as a fourth-grader.
"Pure joy," the 10-year-old said about what was going through her mind when she realized she'd won.
"I feel like my good spelling paid off," she said.
And making it to the county level last year made this year's competition a little easier for the natural-born speller, who said she also has to work at it.
"It helped me overcome the nervousness," she said.
Leilah, daughter of Brad and Nicole Miller of Euharlee, was the last one standing out of 16 elementary and middle school spellers in grades 4-8 after runner-up Mary Harris Gambill from Mission Road Elementary misspelled "reservoir," and she spelled it and "elaborate" correctly to win the title.
"Most of them were words I was familiar with," she said. "I feel like some of them, I wouldn't have been able to spell if I hadn't read them before."
Her spelling bee coordinator, Heather Moulder, said the students and faculty are "ecstatic to have the county spelling bee winner from Kingston."
"She was our representative last year as a fourth-grader so it was very exciting to see her win this year," the English to Speakers of Other Languages teacher said. "We are so proud of her."
Moulder said she gave Leilah a copy of "The Word of the Champions" study guide provided by Scripps National Spelling Bee to help her prepare for the county contest, which was sponsored by the Bartow County Association of Educators and the Bartow Education Foundation.
"She studied at home with her mom," she said.
Leilah — cheered on at the contest by her mother, a family friend who's a retired teacher, Kingston Assistant Principal Mary Payne and Moulder — plans to study the same way for the district spelling bee scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 22, at Georgia Highlands College in Rome.
"I'll keep studying my list of words and flip through the dictionary," she said.
Bartow Education Foundation Executive Director Dot Frasier, who coordinated the contest with Dr. Sharon Collum, executive director of federal programs and professional learning for Bartow County Schools, said this year's event was "one of the shorter bees we've had," lasting a little over an hour, but she called it a "good bee."
"The kids, it seems like they were smaller, and it seems to me like the elementary school spellers did better than the middle school because the winner and the runner-up were both fifth-grade students," she said. "It was just so nice, and the kids were so well-behaved. It just seems like they get smaller every year in size, but they get smarter. There were two little boys — and I forgot what school they were from — but they just were so short and so smart, and the girl from Red Top Middle, she was a good speller."
Ms. Frasier said Leilah's mother, who teaches at Kingston, told her she doesn't know where her daughter's intelligence came from, "'but she is really smart,' and I thought 'yeah.'"
"Spelling is a talent," she said. "I told them one of my sons could not spell. That was not his talent. I think I said he was in the third grade before he learned to spell his name."
Moulder said she thinks Leilah "has the potential to win the district-level spelling bee."
"She is a natural speller," she said. "She is also an avid reader, which helps her to be exposed to lots of vocabulary."
Ms. Frasier also believes Bartow's representative could do well at district.
"Knowing that she's only a fifth-grader and when she gets to Rome, the other winners may be sixth, seventh or eighth," she said. "Sometimes, it's hard for a smart fifth-grader to compete with a smart eighth-grader. Some of these kids may have been in the spelling bee before, and they may be accustomed to going to district."
Superintendent Dr. Phillip Page commended all 16 students for competing in the spelling bee.
"Each contestant maintained a high level of composure and performed very well under pressure," he said. "It was a challenging and rewarding experience for these exceptional students, and the spelling bee coordinators did a great job preparing them for one of the most memorable events of the year."
At the end of the contest, Leilah and Mary Harris received plaques from Page and BEF President Greg Frisbee, and all 16 competitors, wearing their Bartow County Spelling Bee T-shirts, received a certificate and a gift bag.
"There were some nice gifts in there," Ms. Frasier said. "[School board member] Ms. Anna Sullivan gave them a gift certificate, all of them. I think she got it from McDonald's. A $10 gift certificate for 16 people, that was good, and you can buy a lot with $10 at McDonald's."
Representing the other elementary schools in the bee were Dalton Ray from Adairsville, Ransom Hite from Allatoona, Rebecca Von Unwerth from Clear Creek, Jannat Muhammad from Cloverleaf, Isabella Smith from Emerson, Gabrielle Lewis from Euharlee, Katie Long from Hamilton Crossing, Wyatt King from Pine Log, Denver Acrey from Taylorsville and Grace DeLauder, a second-year contestant from White.
The middle school spellers were Ava Lowery from Adairsville, Zakyra Hopkins from Cass, Jade Dimalanta from Red Top and Taylor Adcock from Woodland.
Ms. Frasier has attended all 60 spelling bees, but this one was a little more difficult for her, as it was the first one she's had to do in a long time without her friend and co-coordinator, Nancy Summey, who died in April.
"I don't know if I was depressed, sad or what, but I miss Nancy so bad," she said. "That's the first time in many years she hasn't helped me with that spelling bee."