The fourth time proved to be the charm for Madison seventh-grader Martius Bautista.
Bautista, 12, a student at Edgewood Campus School, outspelled 45 competitors from around Wisconsin to win the first-place prize at the Badger State Spelling Bee on Saturday after correctly spelling “rhizograph,” a device that traces the movement of roots in the soil.
As other students stumbled over words more popular a few decades ago — such as “kahuna” (an important person), “nosh” (snack) and “gestapo” (a reference to the Nazi secret police), Bautista soldiered on, mastering esoteric words such as “jacamar,” a type of tropical bird; “serdab,” an ancient Egyptian tomb; and “benzoin,” a balsamic resin.
In the 25th round at Madison Area Technical College’s Mitby Theater, only Bautista and Hanna Ghouse, a Kenosha seventh-grader, remained on stage. Ghouse tripped on the word “apteryx,” a flightless kiwi bird. Bautista spelled it correctly and took on the next word, rhizograph, to win the top award.
Kieran McKinney, a sixth-grader from West Salem, placed third in the state competition, which is sponsored by the Wisconsin State Journal.
All three will get a free trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May in National Harbor, Maryland, where they will represent Wisconsin.
Bautista, who lives in Janesville but attends school in Madison, said he was shocked he won.
“I feel pretty good,” he said. “I’m proud for the other spellers, too. It’s their first time (in the state spelling bee).”
This was Bautista’s fourth year in the state spelling contest; last year, he took third place.
Bautista said he brushes up on spelling by reading a lot of books, and credits his parents for helping with his training and his friends for pushing him to do well. “My friends motivate me because they want me to win,” he said.
McKinney said finishing in third place “feels awesome. I’m only in sixth grade. There are a lot of eighth-graders and seventh-graders who I’m better than.”
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He said this was the first year his small school, Coulee Christian, participated in the spelling bee.
“I don’t really like spelling,” McKinney said. “I never really got good grades in it. But when my school joined, I wanted to try my hardest.”
Kieran’s mother, Jennifer McKinney, said Kieran got long-distance assistance from Jeff Kirsch, a popular spelling coach for students in Wisconsin and other states.
This was also the first state spelling bee for Sharv Jani, a fourth-grader from Hudson. Jani, 9, admitted he was “kind of nervous” about facing off against “all these sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders towering over me.”
Knocked out in round seven by “herpetology,” a branch of zoology that deals with reptiles and amphibians, Jani said it’s been his dream for many years to be in the Scripps National Spelling Bee and “be famous and ... on TV.”
Sharv’s brother, Shloke, a sixth-grader, also competed in the Badger State Bee and lost in the sixth round.
“Facing challenges is important,” said their father, Arpan Jani. “They can see if you work hard, you can accomplish something.”
Last year’s Badger State Spelling Bee winner, Veronica Goveas, Menomonee Falls, fell in round 15 on the word “grokked,” which means to understand profoundly.
About 250 people attended the Badger State Spelling Bee at Madison Area Technical College’s Mitby Theater, and not all were friends and relatives of the competitors.
East Siders Dorothy and Joshua Cotillier came to cheer on the spellers. The couple said they have enjoyed watching the finals of the national contest in the past, on ESPN.
Joshua, a risk manager at Madison College, said he won a spelling contest when he was a student at Emerson Elementary School, in second grade. “And that was the end of my spelling career,” he said, with a smile.
The Badger State Spelling Bee was first held in 1949.