It took 24 rounds, but a mere fifth-grader schooled her elder middle-grade peers Thursday night to capture first place at the Minneapolis School District spelling bee.

Josie Spanier of Armatage school outlasted 37 other school-level champs, including a two-person duel with runner-up Kate Fraser of Anthony, to prevail.

She won with teriyaki after Fraser misplaced a vowel or two on bravura. (see video above.)

Spanier prevailed despite a diet of such words as pitchblende, tatami, knish, empanada and vulcanize in the late rounds.

A third contestant who stuck with Spanier and Fraser until the last few rounds, John Groos of Seward, was nonplussed by imam, a word clearly foreign to him despite the school’s Somali students.  He used his option to have the word repeated several times by pronouncer Kelly Maynard, eventually delivering an over-voweled rendition of the term for a Muslim cleric.

Fraser and Groos are eighth-graders, giving them several years of additional reading experience over Spanier. But Spanier started reading before age 4.

Spanier, accompanied by parents Kristine and Brien, plus Armatage staffers Lisa Benson and Daniel Holden, said she spent about an hour daily preparing for the district championship.  She used the national spelling bee’s website for practice, and used a list of commonly confused words. But she’s no drudge—had she not been competing, she told an interviewer, she be “probably watchng ‘American Idol.’”

Clad in a pink sweatshirt and spangly boots, she brought the Victorian gothic thriller “Splendors and Glooms” to read before the competition, and in case she was eliminated early.  She didn’t need it.

The students from elementary and middle grade schools across the district got a practice round consisting mostly of one or two syllable words to get over any stage fright before the competition began.  Then they got a dose of reality in a first round that might have been the night’s toughest. More than half of the contestants fell out over words such as mammalian, derivative, dodecahedron, pavlovian, circumstantial and so on. For some inexplicable reason, second-round words reverted to an easier list—with none topping three syllables.

The attrition then slowed, with Sanford student Clare McDonald not tripping up on luau until round 12, while Zoe Huntington departed in the next round on oolong.  McDonald bent down to the mike while the apple-cheeked Huntington craned her neck.

Groos stuck with Spanier and Fraser for four more rounds.  “Since I was like six, I’ve been reading nonstop,” he said. He believes in spelling despite technology aids.  “I know that spell-check is sometimes really faulty,” His father, David is a district biology teacher, who said his dyslexia doesn’t help spelling-wise.

Fraser and Spanier traded words over the next four rounds until Fraser stumbled on howitzer in round 21. Spanier spelled suave correctly, but rules required her to render another word correctly in the next round to triumph. She missed omnipotent, so Fraser was back in the game for round 23, where she missed bravura and Spanier got hygiene, and triumphed with teriyaki in round 24.

All school winners get to take a 50-word computer-generated spelling test from which up to 50 students from the seven-metro area will be selected for the metro bee on March 15. 

As a fifth-grader, Spanier has three more years to compete. But lest she grow over-confident, there’s the lesson of the student from Lake Harriet Community School who won the city title the last two years, but didn’t top her school competition this year.

(Video courtesy Minneapolis public schools/Location Images/