Sean Gilliam was indeed buoyant by the end of the Flagler School District Spelling Bee on Thursday night, Jan. 21, after spelling the championship word – buoyancy – and winning the annual competition.
The hour-long event was nerve-wracking for the 15 students on stage, as well as the families and teachers watching from their seats in the cafeteria at Wadsworth Elementary. School is a place where you want to hear bells, dismissal bells, recess or lunch bells, but no one wanted to hear a bell on Thursday night. A bell meant you were out of the competition. No bells rang for Sean.
The students sat under the lights, on the stage, doing their best not to fidget. After the first round there were nine, then five. By the fourth round, four students approached the microphone; smorgasbord, espadrille, quasar and languish didn't stump them. After round five, three students remained – Sean Gilliam, Bunnell Elementary; Brianna Pearce, Old Kings Elementary; and Grayson Ronk, Wadsworth Elementary.
As pronouncer, Angela Reed read the definition of buoyancy, Sean's mouth opened and closed twice, allowing her to finish. He knew this – he was ready to spell, and he did. Now he will compete at the Northeast Regional Competition in Jacksonville on Feb. 27.
Kevin McCarthy, another BES alumnus, and director of the district's adult and education department, who won the Flagler School District Spelling Bee when he was in the sixth grade, had advice for Sean when he approaches the microphone in Jacksonville.
“Stay calm and focused. You know what you know,” McCarthy said. “I learned a lot that day.”
McCarthy couldn't recall the word he spelled correctly to advance to the regional competition, but he remembers the word he couldn't spell during the first round in Jacksonville – infatuation.
“I asked them to use it in a sentence and I drew a blank” he said. “As you walk back to your seat, you know how to spell the word.”
Sean credited his success with being an avid reader, but when asked what his favorite subject in school is, the answer was “math.”