UL seventh grader prevails

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – The order of spellers during the 27th annual Belmont County Spelling Bee is determined by random draw, numbering one through 18.

But if there was one number that Union Local seventh-grader Justin Hamilton did not want, it was No. 4.

That was Hamilton’s number two years ago during his first attempt at claiming the county’s spelling bee. The result? Hamilton missed his first word and was eliminated.

After finishing runner-up to fellow seventh grader Marcus Clark from Martins Ferry in 2012, Hamilton was hoping to take that next step and earn the opportunity to represent Belmont County in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

As luck would have it, Hamilton again was picked fourth, and before the bee began, he was forced to stare down at that unlucky No. 4 featured on the placard draped on his chest.

“Anything but four. I wanted any number but four,” a relieved Hamilton said after capturing the 27th annual Belmont County Spelling Bee, edging Clark, the defending champion.

Half the competition was eliminated by the time the seventh round rolled around but all eight remaining spellers pressed on into the eighth.

Some students were confident in their spelling, others needed a little more time, slowly enunciating each letter, ending with an upward inflection of their voice, hoping their word was spelled correctly.

Two students fell in the eighth round, two more in the ninth, leaving Hamilton, Clark, fifth-grader Maura Jean Tiber from St. John Central Grade School and Chase Ake from the Martins Ferry Christian School, the lone fourth grader in the competition.

Tiber was the first to fall, missing “roodebok” in the 11th round.

Ake dropped a round later, unable to correctly spell “chauvinism.”

That left Hamilton and Clark to face head-to-head at the start of the 13th round. Thirteen appeared an ill omen for both spellers.

Clark missed the first word, “defamation,” giving Hamilton the opportunity to claim victory should he spell the next two words correctly. He didn’t, incorrectly spelling “fidgety.”

Clark had a chance to regain the edge and did so, spelling “nonplus” correctly. However, he misfired on “guffaw,” giving Hamilton another chance. Again, Hamilton struggled, spelling “alias” incorrectly. For the second time, Clark spelled his next word, “essayist,” correctly. But Clark misspelled “snivel,” giving Hamilton a third opportunity to dethrone the champion.

This time, he took advantage, spelling “hermetic” and “rockabilly” correctly to claim victory.

“I was nervous. I could feel my heart beating through every part of my body,” Hamilton said.

Along with earning a trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., Hamilton took home a $500 cash prize, a first-place trophy, a copy of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary and the Samuel Louis Sugarman Award, and he will receive a plaque with his two winning words to be displayed at the school.

The Times Leader/Riesbeck’s traveling trophy also will be housed in Union Local Middle School, and Hamilton will receive a one-year subscription to Britannica Online for Kids.

Clark receives a $250 cash prize, the second-place trophy and a Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. Ake earned a $150 cash prize and a third-place trophy while Tiber took home a $100 cash prize and the fourth-place trophy.

St. Clairsville Middle School eighth-grader Paige Becket won $50 for winning the design contest for the cover of the spelling bee program.

Hamilton’s victory is the ninth time that a Union Local student has captured the county spelling bee and first since AJ Feiock did so in 2010.

The spelling bee was again sponsored by The Times Leader, Riesbeck’s Food Markets, The Citizens Bank, Airport Limousine Service, AAA Ohio Auto Club, the Belmont County Educational Services Center and the East Central Ohio ESC.

Hughes may be reached at