Kids and words

Cheers and tears at annual Agribee

Mori Leveroni of Plaza School in Orland is winner of the 2010 Agribee. The fourth-grader took home that title and a brand-new laptop computer during the competition last week.

Mori Leveroni of Plaza School in Orland is winner of the 2010 Agribee. The fourth-grader took home that title and a brand-new laptop computer during the competition last week.

Photo By christine g.k. lapado

It came down to a shoot-out of sorts between finalists Mori Leveroni and Leah Settles at the fifth annual Agribee, held April 1 at the historic Patrick Ranch, on the Midway between Chico and Durham, and attended by a room full of family members, teachers and friends.

“Pecan,” offered word-caller Trish Dunlap, a retired Chico assistant city manager.

“P-E-C-A-N,” Settles responded, then correctly defined the word.

Leveroni’s word was “anther”—“the male reproductive part of a flower, containing the pollen,” according to the official Agribee word list handed out to all contestants in February—and neither the spelling of it nor its definition stumped the pretty, poised 9-year-old, who carefully wrote out each word on a piece of paper prior to spelling it, as allowed by the rules.

Back and forth it went between Settles, a fourth-grader at Ponderosa Elementary School in Paradise, and Leveroni, who is in the fourth grade at Orland’s small K-8 Plaza School, as they spelled and defined a series of agriculture-related words—“broadcast,” “ripe,” “fallow,” “fruit tree,” “row crops,” “entomology,” “walnut,” “foodstuff,” “hive,” “honey,” “harness,” “nectar,” “cultivate,” “squirrel,” “plant,” “arid,” “berry,” “agriculture,” “colony,” and “photosynthesis.”

The turning point came when Settles was given the word “haymow.”

“H-A-Y-space-M-O-W,” she answered, her hands pressed down into the pockets of her hooded, fuschia-colored sweater.

“That is incorrect,” said Dunlap.

Leveroni, according to the rules, had to take a turn at spelling the word, and did so correctly (without a space).

She spelled and defined her next word—“herbicide”—correctly, making her the winner of the Butte County Farm Bureau-sponsored spelling bee, and of a brand-new Dell laptop computer.

Leveroni was among 10 third- and fourth-grade kids who had been chosen as finalists during “School Level Agribees” held earlier in the year at the five participating Glenn and Butte county schools, including Chico’s Rosedale Elementary School. Her correct answer was a happy ending to an hour-and-a-quarter-long contest, which was as nerve-wracking at times as it was fun and exciting.

After an initial practice round, the contestants went on to the first official round of the Agribee, in which each student had to either correctly spell or define the word given to him or her.

Rosedale student Luke Reed led off with the word “pollinate,” which he spelled incorrectly but gave an acceptable definition for, according to the three judges, Butte County Supervisor Steve Lambert, Tri Counties Bank Vice President Mark Edwards, and Ryan Schohr, former president of the Butte County Farm Bureau.

Josiah Lawrence, a cute, bespectacled boy in a plaid shirt, from Manzanita Elementary School in Gridley, followed Reed. He tackled the word “pesticide,” spelling and defining it correctly.

Settles came next, showing her prowess early in the game on the word “harrow,” which she spelled correctly and impressively defined as a “frame with spikes or sharp-edged discs drawn by horse or tractor to break up soil, cover seeds or root up weeds.”

“Word for word,” whispered Lambert to this reporter, referring to Settles’ memorization of the lengthy definition on the word list.

Round two followed the same rules as round one, which led to the spelling bee’s first sad moment, when Sarai Mangana of Manzanita Elementary was disqualified after she misspelled the word “mold” and was unable to define it.

Dakota Downham-West, a boy from the same school as Leveroni, was next to go out (on the word “germinate”), leaving eight students going into round three, in which words had to be both defined and spelled correctly.

A precocious boy named Thomas Wood, from Ponderosa Elementary, sailed through the early part of round three on “chemicals,” but Mackenzie Rutherford, from Oroville’s Stanford Avenue Elementary School, was eliminated when she misspelled “legume.”

Perhaps the most heart-wrenching moment occurred in the third round, when Rosedale’s Aeia Peterson was told that her spelling of “agribusiness” was incorrect because of her idiosyncratic pronunciation of the letter “g.” Dunlap said she had heard it as a “z.”

Peterson was reinstated after a short discussion between Dunlap and the judges, but that didn’t stop the tears flowing down her flushed cheeks when she retook her seat near the podium.

As round three continued, contestants were eliminated one by one. Lawrence went out on “dormancy,” Wood on the word “caterpillar.” Jade Taylor-Williams, of Stanford Avenue Elementary, finally was out of the running when she didn’t give a definition of “farm” that satisfied the judges.

When it came down to just Leveroni and Settles, emcee and Farm Bureau Executive Director Colleen Cecil announced the rules for competition between the final two contestants, and they were off to the races.

“I’m so happy, I think I’m going to cry,” said Leveroni, moments after she won. “Every word I got up there, I just started to tremble. I could barely hold the pencil. It’s just amazing. I can’t feel my legs right now.”