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Second annual NWT Spelling Bee is buzzing in Inuvik

Hard work has certainly paid off for Rowan McInnes.

Ahead of the 2024 NWT Spelling Bee, held in Inuvik on May 15, the Grade 11/12 winner from East Three Secondary practiced spelling words every night.

“It feels great, honestly,” he said. “I spent a few weeks looking things up. This just proves that my memory is better than I think.

“The seventh grade words were the words that scared me. All the words in my class I knew, most of them I knew and all the words we were given, I knew how to spell them all. So I was pretty chill, except that I went there because I sat there nervously for about two hours.”

With the extra practice, McInnes was able to spell words on the spot, such as escutcheon, flagrant and mezzanine.

He was one of six students in the Grade 11/12 category who braved the podium. A total of 19 students from nine communities in the NWT participated in the spelling bee: 14 in person and five virtually. Participants represented communities such as Inuvik, Paulatuk, Whati, Fort Liard, Behchoko, Fort Smith, Hay River, Fort Good Hope and Yellowknife.

The stakes were high. First place in each age category was awarded a cash prize of $1,000. Second place was worth $500 and third place received $250 for their spelling skills.

Grade 9/10 winner Augustin Lacoursiere-Barthe said he was going to put his earnings into a savings account.

“It feels really good,” he said. “I was stressed at first, but now I’m happy to take it home.

“I wasn’t so sure at first, but I got through it.”

To earn his prize, Lacoursiere-Barthe had to spell out a tapestry of words, the height of difficulty being juxtaposition.

Although McInnes considered spending the prize money on a vacation, all three first-place winners noted that they were putting their winnings into savings accounts, hoping to build on their success with other endeavors.

“Save it. Invest,” said Queen Ajibade, grade 7/8 winner. “It feels good. Towards the end they started asking me questions to use my paper, so I was a little worried. But I persevered.”

Ajibade had a sensible supply of words to spell, the longest of which was barbiturate.

With school districts from across the area participating, organizing the spelling bee took months of planning. Since September, a team of five education councils in the Beaufort Delta, Sahtu, South Slave, Yellowknife, Tlicho and the Dehcho region have been organizing regional championships in the lead-up to this territorial showdown.

Last year, Fort Simpson hosted the territorial championship. It remains to be seen which school will host the spelling bee next year.

“It was incredible to see the students stand up in front of complete strangers and do something that is vulnerable and difficult,” said co-organizer Steve Dagar. “I was incredibly proud of everyone who participated.”