Baxter teen wins Lakes Bee, heads to nationals in Washington, D.C.

STAPLES--"Did I win?" 13-year-old Meryl Tigenoah, a Forestview Middle School eighth-grader, asked Thursday at the end of The Lakes Bee, a regional spelling bee held at the National Joint Powers Alliance in Staples.

STAPLES-"Did I win?" 13-year-old Meryl Tigenoah, a Forestview Middle School eighth-grader, asked Thursday at the end of The Lakes Bee, a regional spelling bee held at the National Joint Powers Alliance in Staples.

Lakes Bee officials initially answered "yes," she was the champion. However, there was confusion on whether or not the Baxter teen was the winner or not.

The officials of the regional spelling bee-Julie Benson, the pronouncer; Bart Graves, the head judge; Julie Mertens, the rounds/records judge; Amy Tervola-Hultberg, the dictionary judge; and Vanessa Waldahl, the recorder-took about 25-30 minutes after the bee to discuss the rules of the regional bee to make sure Meryl was indeed the winner.

All the officials, with the exception of Mertens, are new to The Lakes Bee. All the officials are NJPA education consultants, except Waldahl, who is a teacher in Verndale.

As the officials discussed the rules and how the rounds played out in the final spelldown-which came down to Meryl and Rose Han, an eighth-grader at Staples-Motley School-the two students had to wait up front in the conference room where the spelling bee was held until a final decision was made.


In the end, Meryl was officially named the champion and won a trip to Washington, D.C., to compete in the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee in May.

The two eighth-graders went back and forth in five rounds. In the last round, Meryl spelled "unobstructed" correct, but Rose misspelled "girder." In The Lakes Bee rules, the student must spell a second word correctly for the win. Meryl's word was "declarative," which she spelled correctly.

Meryl, the daughter of Linda and Roland Tigenoah of Baxter also won the Brainerd School District Bee, where she outlasted 29 students before coming out on top.

The Lakes Bee, sponsored by the NJPA, is a regional bee consisting of students in grades fourth through eighth in Crow Wing, Morrison, Wadena, Todd and Cass counties who compete for a chance to advance to the national spelling bee. Students competing in the regional bee were among the top spellers at their school's spelling bee held earlier this year. In the regional bee, once a student misspelled a word they were eliminated.

There were 10 rounds before the final spelldown between Meryl and Rose. In Round 1, six students were eliminated; Round 2, five students; Round 3, three students; Round 4, two students; Round 5, four students; one student each in rounds six, seven and eight; four students in Round 9; and one student in Round 10.

There were two appeals from audience members questioning a word where the students were eliminated. The officials both times allowed the students to spell a new word to be fair. One student spelled their word correctly and moved on, while the other spelled the word incorrectly and was officially eliminated.

Autumn Paulus, 12, the daughter of Mike and Kay Paulus of Brainerd, was eliminated in Round 10, taking third place. She won a $25 gift card and a trophy.

"It feels really good," Autumn said. "I studied hard. ... My mom and dad would quiz me in the car everyday to practice. I wouldn't have gotten this far if it wasn't for them."


Autumn knew she had her word-"clerical"-wrong in Round 10. In the middle of spelling the word, she realized she had it wrong, so she took a long pause and then finished spelling the word.

"I mixed up the 'c' and the 'i,'" she said.

Rose, 13, the daughter of Kathryn Edwards of Staples, took second place. She also took second last year in a row in the regional bee. Rose won a Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, a $25 gift card and a trophy. Edwards said after the bee her daughter did not want to make a comment.

Meryl was all smiles about winning the trip to Washington, D.C., as it has been her goal. She said she studied the nights her mom had off and it paid off. The only word Meryl misspelled was "turpentine" in one of the five rounds in the final spelldown. She would have been eliminated, but Rose misspelled "horizontal," which continued the bee. Meryl said with all the studying she did for the bee, it made the competition much easier for her. She said she knew she had to calm her nerves during the bee, which she did through breathing techniques.

"It's always exciting to see all the spellers. It is such an opportunity for the one who gets to go on and compete in the national spelling bee," said Carol Jackson of NJPA and The Lakes Bee coordinator.

Other students who competed were:

• Forestview Middle School in Baxter: Eighth-graders Meryl Tigenoah, Autumn Paulus, Jay Petrie and Ethan Hubert; seventh-grader Nicholas Backstrom; and sixth-graders Max Holmstrom and Michael Kuehn.

• St. Francis of the Lakes Catholic School in Brainerd seventh-grader Magdalen Heckman.


• Aitkin Public School eighth-grader Jodi Banks and fifth-grader Alex Mateyka.

• Crosslake Community School sixth-grader Parker Schott.

• Staples-Motley Public School: Eighth-grader Rose Han and seventh-graders William Thew.

• Holy Trinity Catholic School in Pierz sixth-grader Kirby Fischer.

• Pierz School District eighth-graders Jaden Lindeman and Victoria Mitchell.

• Pequot Lakes Public School: Eighth-grader Logan Haberman and fifth-grader Ryan Fritz.

• Pine River-Backus fifth-grader Kyana Vondal-Parsons.

• Mary of Lourdes Middle School seventh-grader Maddy Ploof.


• Wadena-Deer Creek Public Schools fifth-grader Anna Guo.

• Browerville Public School eighth-grader Breanna Ecker.

• Bertha-Hewitt Public School sixth-grader Brendan Adams.

• Upsala Area School fourth-grader Lois Wardlaw.

• Menahga Public School sixth-grader Alendra Ylitalo.

• Royalton Public School seventh-grader Chloe Holoman.

• Verndale Public School eighth-grader Maria Huhta.

• Swanville Public School fourth-grader Emma Kurowski.


• Sebeka Public School sixth-grader Xander Lincoln.

• Northland Community School sixth-grader Liam Wake.

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