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Words flow smoothly for Counihan

Victory, even a shared one, has a pleasant sound to state co-champion speller Sean Counihan of Hood River.

Mellifluous — flowing smooth as honey, says Webster — was one of the three tie-breaker words the May Street fifth grader correctly spelled in the Oregon Statewide Spelling Championship elementary school division on Aug. 30. Sean is the son of Jen Bayer and Tim Counihan.

“It was fun. I enjoy spelling,” Sean said. “It’s a wonderful skill to have in life.”

The written test, held in a tent during the Oregon State Fair in Salem, finished with Sean and Scott Winkenweder of Yamhill County in first. In second place were Sophia Perakis of Benton County and Ian Giles of Washington County, and Alia Graves of Curry County took third.

For the sixth year, Oregon Spellers, an all-volunteer group funded solely by donations, sponsored the event. Fifty-eight spellers came from 26 counties and braved the rain to compete in the contest. They competed in one of three divisions: elementary, middle or high school.

“We kept spelling the words correctly and after three tie-breakers they finally said, ‘let’s just have two winners,’” said Sean, who was happy with that outcome.

Sean said, “It was a really challenging competition. I was glad it was more difficult,” than the qualifying school and district competitions last spring. He said he prepared by sitting down with his parents “almost every day” with a practice word list for two weeks before the competition.

The annual spelling contest had previously been directed by the Oregon Department of Education (ODE), but they stopped supporting the contest after 2008 due to state budget cuts.

The Oregon Statewide Spelling Championship is a written contest, not an oral bee, so all contestants in each division receive the same words. KPTV’s Debra Gil, from Good Day Oregon, emceed the statewide spelling contest this year. She pronounced each word, used it in a sentence, and then interviewed the contestants while judges scored the test papers. First, second, and third place winners received monetary prizes. The elementary-level spellers were so adept this year that they had to have an unprecedented third tie-breaker. The audience was invited to test their skills by spelling the contest words along with the students. Winners were awarded prize bags and everyone who participated received a goody bag of Smarties and Nerds.

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