Alec Bonham, 11, loves to read books. He never guessed that his beloved, quiet pastime would ultimately land him on the stage of his elementary school with his hands pressed over his ears in an effort to temper the overwhelming sound of the deafening cheers and applause of hundreds of his classmates.
On Friday afternoon, March 2, that is precisely what the shy Forestville Elementary School fifth grader found himself doing — having just won first place in the first annual Forestville Spelling Bee. Presented by the Forestville Parent Teacher Association (PTA), the Bee took place in the school's cafeteria and featured fourth, fifth and sixth grade students. All fourth, fifth and sixth grade students participated in the Spelling Bee in their classrooms on Feb. 20-23. The two top spellers in each class then advanced to the School Spelling Bee on March 2.
Over the course of a tense hour and a half, the students took turns spelling words before a panel of judges that included Fairfax County School Board representative for the Dranesville District Jane Strauss. As the hour wore on, the group of 28 students was gradually whittled down to two particularly gifted spellers — sixth grader Varun Chundura, 12, and fifth grader Alec Bonham, 11.
FROM Round 7 to Round 15, the two boys battled for the coveted first place position. Since the rules require that a word transfer to the other contestant in the event that the first spells it incorrectly, Varun and Alec found themselves in a nerve-wracking, back-and-forth exchange. In Round 9, both students successfully spelled "manicure" and "strategy," but then failed to correctly spell "castanets" in Round 10, and "wiseacre" in Round 11. But after pushing through some difficult moments in Rounds 12 and 13, Alec was able to correctly spell "binoculars," "crevice," "fidgeted" and "interfere," thus sailing him into first place for the entire competition.
"I didn't think it would end," said Alec after receiving his first place trophy from Forestville Elementary School principal Matt Harris.
Both boys said they were very nervous throughout the entire Bee, and both agreed that it was a tough competition.
"It was hard," said Varun. "Every word was hard."
As the winner of the Forestville Spelling Bee, Alec will now go on to compete in the inaugural Fairfax County Regional Spelling Bee on March 25 at Oakton High School. The winner of the county Bee will get to participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee which will be held in Washington D.C. on May 30-31. In addition to his trophy, Alec also received a Scripps spelling study guide. He said he plans to use it to prepare for the upcoming Fairfax County Bee.
Alec's parents Bivings and Gigi Bonham watched their son win the Forestville Spelling Bee and both said they felt incredibly proud — particularly since they never knew he was such a talented speller.
"It was really nerve-wracking," said his father, Bivings Bonham. "He's a self-taught speller. He reads a lot — he always has his nose buried in a book."