A dangerous homonym almost eliminated 10-year-old Jennifer Chatfield from the county spelling bee Friday. But in the end, the fifth-grader from Julia Randall Elementary School spelled her way to third best in Gila County.
Chatfield, who placed first in the Payson spelling bee, was nearly eliminated with the very first word she was given to spell: "wok."
"She asked for the word to be repeated because she thought, ‘How can they be giving me such a simple word like walk?'" Frontier Elementary School principal Gail Gorry said.
"You have to remember that the words at this level of competition are generally more difficult to spell -- multiple syllables from foreign languages and that's why Jennifer was so surprised to receive a word as easy as what she thought was w-a-l-k."
As Jennifer proceeded to spell "walk," the judges' bell sounded indicating she was incorrect and therefore eliminated.
"Armida Bittner, county school superintendent who organized the competition, had to explain to the judges that ‘walk' and ‘wok' are homonyms," Gorry said. "Since Jennifer did not ask for the word to be used in a sentence the judges accepted her spelling and she was allowed to continue in the competition."
Her fourth-grade teammate, Carlos Robles of Frontier Elementary, placed fifth in the county.
Six of Payson's top spellers traveled to Globe for the competition: three elementary school students and three from the middle school.
"At one point during the competition, there were only eight spellers left on stage and three of them were from Payson," Gorry said. "Of those three on stage they were the only elementary school students. Everyone else was a middle school student."
Robles faced challenges of his own -- some which started long before the county spelling bee.
"Carlos just started learning English four years ago," Gorry said. "He entered the competition as an alternate, but ended up being able to compete because we had two spellers absent."
Robles, whose native language is Spanish, also was the only fourth-grade student in the competition.
"It was wonderful to see that an alternate who is so young, and a second language learner, could accomplish so much. And to think that in first grade Carlos knew no English at all," Gorry said. "He is a remarkable story about a person determined to do his best and being ready to perform when the opportunity arose."
The complete Payson spelling-bee team included elementary school students Chatfield, Robles, Levi Sopeland and Paula Scott; and middle school students Eric Pennington, David Knauer and Wesley Nelson.