Dylan Jackson may be a soft-spoken sixth-grader, but that's not stopping the Nikiski youth from going to Washington, D.C., this spring to compete in the 2009 Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The sixth grader from Nikiski North Star Elementary earned the trip to the capital after taking first place in Anchorage Daily News Spelling Bee in Anchorage on Wednesday.
Jackson said he went up against more than 150 other third- through eighth-grade Alaska students.
He said he was just hoping to place somewhere in the top 15.
After going through several rounds of eliminations that whittled away much of the competition, he found himself facing only a three other contestants.
The four went head-to-head for several heated rounds he said, before the other three misspelled their words, leaving him to correctly spell "impetrate."
That he did.
"I didn't really believe it, because I wasn't thinking that I would get that far," he said.
He'll go even farther now. His win earned him a weeklong trip to D.C. for the May 26-28 competition, a $20 gift certificate for Amazon.com and a year-long subscription to Britannica.com.
While he said he enjoyed the bee, he admitted he was nervous at times.
After spelling fickle, perfidy and fennec, he said the pressure started to mount, "and the next couple rounds I was too nervous to remember."
Jackson's generally cool demeanor, however, worked to his advantage onstage. While facing down the judges, the bright lights, the audience gathered in the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts and of course, the competition breathing down his neck, Jackson had an easy but effective solution.
"I pretend that there's not people there because it takes some of the pressure away," he said.
While keeping cool in the hot seat played an important part in Jackson's victory, he didn't go to Anchorage unprepared.
Jackson said he spends 30 to 45 minutes a day using a study book and browsing through a dictionary hunting for challenging words.
His teacher, Sherry Matson, said Jackson put the time into getting ready for the competition.
"He took seriously the preparation for this bee, so he studied the packet that they gave him and he does have a special knack as most strong spellers do with a strong visual sense; spelling is a visual skill," Matson said.
She explained he has the ability to memorize the spelling of a word simply by looking at it, quite likely helping him correctly spell fennec, she said, a word that could easily stump most adults.
Matson also said Jackson was a "voracious reader," offering him a strong edge over his competitors
Jackson said he enjoys reading, though he doesn't consider it part of his studying.
As he looks forward to his trip to D.C., Jackson will continue to study and likely step things up a notch or two as well.
"In some of the ending rounds they usually started using the challenge words a lot and I'm thinking about studying those more," he said.
Matson said she wanted Jackson to watch "Spellbound," a documentary that followed several competitors in the 1999 national bee. She said she may show parts of the film to her students as well.
"I told him for sure he needs to look at that to see the preparation that the winners go through, which is mind boggling," she said.
Dante Petri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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