STEUBENVILLE - The winning word was 'whimsical," defined as "determined by, arising from or marked by whim or caprice," and spelling it correctly was enough to give Brianna Piergallini, a seventh-grader at Indian Creek Junior High School, the win Saturday at Steubenville High School over 40 other fellow spellers during the 27th annual Jefferson County All Schools Spelling Bee, co-sponsored by the Herald-Star and Eastern Gateway Community College.
The winning word may have been "whimsical," but there was nothing funny about Piergallini's win in 30 rounds over last year's winner, Dharani Kotekal, a seventh-grader at Indian Creek Junior High School. Veteran bee watchers declared the event one of the most exciting and gripping bees in Jefferson County history, as the two competed in more than 10 rounds before the winner was announced.
"This was one of the most exciting bees we've ever had," said Ross Gallabrese, executive editor at the Herald-Star, during the awards presentation.
The event included 41 spellers from the Indian Creek, Steubenville, Edison, Buckeye and Toronto school districts as well as home-schooled pupils and those from Bishop John King Mussio Central School.
Piergallini, who came in second place in the county bee in 2009, will be taking an all-expenses paid trip, along with travel accommodations provided by Amtrak and Uniglobe Ohio Valley Travel, to Washington D.C. May 29 through June 3 for Bee Week, which will include a spot in the 84th Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Piergallini's win also earned her a slew of prizes, including a $500 bond from Huntington Bank; a Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition; a one-year online subscription to the Encyclopedia Britannica; a $20 gift certificate from Amazon.com; and a $100 savings bond courtesy of the Samuel Sugarman Award.
Other top spellers included Amelia Kuntz, a fifth-grader at Karaffa Middle School, third place; Elonna Mitchell, a fifth-grader at the Virtual Learning Academy, fourth place; Rachel Zeroski, a seventh-grader at Buckeye Local Junior High School, fifth place; Taylor Bennington, a seventh-grader at Bishop John King Mussio Central School, sixth place; Maurkesha Young, a seventh-grader at Bishop John King Mussio Central School, seventh place; Taylor Norman, a seventh-grader at Buckeye Local Junior High School, eighth place; Nathan Keenan, a fifth-grader at Karaffa Middle School, ninth place; and Mark Merritt, an eighth-grader at Stanton Middle School, 10th place.
Piergallini, 12, the daughter of Lewis and Lori Piergallini, took her victory in stride, adding consistent study was the key to victory.
"I studied every day for an hour," she said, adding she studied as much her free time allowed. "I also play a lot of sports.
"I've only been to Washington D.C. once, and that was last summer," she continued. "My parents took me to see it because of all the monuments there."
Not that the other top spellers were going home without awards, as each received a trophy from the Herald-Star; a thesaurus for the fifth and fourth-place finishers; a one-year, online subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica and a $100 savings bond courtesy of Huntington Bank for the third place win; and a Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, $20 gift certificate from Amazon.com, a one-year, online subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica and a $300 savings bond from Huntington Bank for second place.
During remarks Gallabrese thanked additional sponsors for the event, which included the Ohio Lottery, the Jefferson County Educational Service Center, Huntington Bank, Amtrak and Uniglobe Ohio Valley.
(Miller can be contacted at email@example.com.)