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DeKalb County Spelling Bee to end with spell-off

MALTA – If a spell-off between two middle school students is anything like their first meeting, audience members can expect an epic battle.

The DeKalb County Spelling Bee ended without a winner Saturday after three-and-a-half hours of competition that included 74 rounds, two breaks and two appeals.

The winner will now be decided during a spell-off March 8 between Sycamore Middle School student Matthew Rogers and Keith Mokry, a student at Somonauk Middle School.

“They were getting words I couldn’t even begin to start spelling,” said Jim Cleven, principal at Sycamore Middle School who attended the spelling bee. “It was amazing to watch those two go back and forth. It’s a shame we have to have a loser.”

The county’s spelling bee wasn’t the only one nationally that ended last weekend without a winner.
After more than 60 rounds of the Jackson County Spelling Bee in Missouri, two contestants remained and a spell-off will be scheduled.

Both duels have gained national attention through various media outlets, including The Rachel Maddow Show. To view her piece about the competitions, visit

In DeKalb County, the contest included the pair competing head-to-head for 66 rounds, spelling words like “trepak,” “issei,” “weimaraner,” “hemerocallis,” “zeitgeber,” and “tchotchke.”

The contest was almost decided Saturday after the 71st round when Rogers misspelled the word, “punctilio,” but the judges decided that the pronouncer didn’t give the correct pronunciation of the word after an appeal by the 13-year-old’s parents.

“It was really a surprise that it went on that long,” said Rogers, who won last year’s county spelling bee in 14 rounds. “My dad was praying every time before I spelled. There weren’t any words I didn’t know. I knew all of them.”

The Daily Chronicle sponsors an all-expenses-paid trip to National Harbor, Md., in May for the winner of the spelling bee to represent the county in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

DeKalb Regional Superintendent of Schools Amanda Christensen said the words that were used Saturday came from Merriam-Webster’s Spell It! study guide, which is used by Scripps. The words that will be used during the spell-off come from the “additional” words list sent by Scripps.

“Considering this was only the second [spelling] bee I have coordinated, it was quite a surprise,” Christensen said. “These two individuals had so thoroughly prepared and studied those words, and were able to stand up to the pressure.”

Somonauk Middle School Principal Jay Streicher agreed.

“Who would have thought watching a spelling bee could be that intense,” he said. “I thought the pronouncer was actually making up words because I had never heard of some of them. They were both so calm, cool and collected.”

The DeKalb County spell-off will take place at 10 a.m. on March 8 at the DeKalb County Regional Office of Education, located at 2500 N. Annie Glidden Road.

Spelling Bee continues

The two remaining contestants will face off when the DeKalb County Spelling Bee continues at 10 a.m. March 8 at the Regional Office of Education, 2500 N. Annie Glidden Road in DeKalb.

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