Local spelling champ gets ready for next competition

February 10, 2012 10:45:00 PM

Carmen K. Sisson - [email protected]


This will probably come as a surprise to Caledonia Middle School sixth-grader Elise Cook's fan club, but her favorite subject isn't English, it's math. In fact, this year's countywide spelling champ is hoping to someday become an engineer.  


Friday morning, she was recognized by the Lowndes County School Board for defeating students from the city and county schools in the Columbus-Lowndes County Spelling Bee Jan. 31. The competition was open to fourth- through fifth-grade students from public, private and parochial schools in the area. Jude Alnas of Heritage Academy was this year's runner-up. 


Two years ago, Cook was a runner-up in the contest, losing when she misspelled the word "alcohol." When asked about the gaffe -- misspelling what her father, Joe Cook, called a relatively simple word -- the 11-year-old sheepishly grinned and admitted it wasn't a word she regularly encounters while reading. 


She began studying for the local competition in December, employing both her mother, Judene Cook, and her older sister, Ryann Cook, to help with the 1,000-word list. Though she said she didn't miss any words this year, she struggled with the word "extraordinarily" because it has so many letters and requires the speller to proceed slowly so as not to miss any of them.  


"I'm still pretty surprised," she said about her win. "It doesn't really feel real. It's just kind of sinking in now." 


But don't think Cook is sitting at home, polishing her trophy. She's busy preparing to achieve her next goal: Winning the Mid-South Spelling Bee March 3 in Memphis. The winner of that competition will advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May.  


She said she has ramped up her practice sessions, working on her word lists at least an hour each night and squeezing in extra study during gym class.  


"She thinks she can win it, and I think she can, too," her father said.  


She's humble in her acceptance of praise though, saying she's grateful to her parents for their support. She's also grateful to have made it this far and says she isn't nervous -- yet. She hopes she'll get the chance to visit the Memphis Zoo, whether she wins or loses.  


Caledonia Middle School Principal Karen Pittman said that's typical of Cook.  


"We are extremely proud of her and just so elated she won," Pittman said Friday afternoon. "She's been striving to win, and she did. We look forward to her doing fairly well in it. When she makes her mind up to something, she goes at it fullsteam." 


In her spare time, Cook enjoys reading and playing basketball and soccer.

Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.