12-year-old John Lindsay-Ryan correctly spelled the word “gibbon” to take the Evanston/Skokie District 65 spelling bee finals on Thursday afternoon at Chute Middle School.

John was the last student standing, or rather spelling, after 13 rounds of elementary and middle schoolers held the audience spellbound, which, by the way, was one of the words in the competition. S-P-E-L-L-B-O-U-N-D.

Winners from 16 schools competed in the school district finals on Thursday.

In spelling bee,each participant is given a word. Spell it incorrectly and you’re out. Get it right and it’s on to the next round for more words.

After 14 other student finalists from schools around the district had been eliminated, it came down to John and to Grace Nester-Detwiler, a 5th grader from Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies .

Grace misspelled “gibbon” (a small member of the ape family). John was then “gibbon,” or rather, “given” a chance at the same word, and he nailed it.

“I’ve always enjoyed spelling,” said John, a student at Chute.

John explained that he spent a couple of days studying, using a packet and an app to learn a lot, and also figured out on his own how to navigate words which were completely unfamiliar.

“I separate words into parts,” he said, “and then spell each part.”

District officials say its the first time local schools have participated in the nationwide Scripps-Howard spelling bee. If John makes it through two other geographic area rounds, it’s off to the finals in Washington, D.C. later this year.

The District 65 contenders at Thursday’s event had all made it out of previous classroom and school spelling bees.

As per Scripps-Howard rules, the local championship had 4th graders through 8th graders, all competing against one another.

The words in round one seemed more like something from kindergarten. “Hot.” “Map.” “Ten.”

But actually, those easy words were like batting practice pitches thrown by a coach … easy to hit out of the park, and helping to build confidence.

As the rounds progressed, the words became harder and harder. “Caparisoned.” “Architrave.” “Mullioned.” (Yeah, scratch your head. I had never heard of any of them either).

It was a lot of pressure, standing on stage, in front of parents, teachers, siblings, and particularly in front of the other spellers.

Superintendent Devon Horton with the winner and runner-up, along with D65 spelling bee director Jennifer Barnes.

But from the first one eliminated to the last one with the trophy, they had all earned the right to feel P-R-O-U-D.

Next Thursday at Chute, there will be a spelling bee in Spanish.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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