DeKALB – In a harbinger of things to come, Matthew Rogers sat silently with his parents awaiting the continuation of the DeKalb County Spelling Bee, while his opponent, Keith Mokry, milled about the auditorium joking with friends and supporters.
The two-man spell-off Saturday morning was more a test of nerves than anything else. The duel was the conclusion of the epic 74-round competition that ended in a stalemate two weeks ago, when Mokry and Rogers went head-to-head for 66 rounds without either speller missing a word.
This time it was over before the spectators in the packed house had settled into their seats at the DeKalb County Regional Office of Education building.
After beginning with simple words like “platform” and “oodles,” Rogers misspelled “corrode” in round 5. Mokry was then given the word “spacious” for the win, which he handled effortlessly
“[It was] a lot of pressure," said Mary Mokry, Keith’s mother. "Anybody can spell the words on paper, but when you’re up in front of everybody it can be overwhelming and he was able to pull it out.”
Even though the words during this extended face-off ended up being easier many of those used two weeks ago, both contestants said that they were less confident coming into Saturday’s contest.
“I just chose random words to study … I didn’t know what to expect because they didn’t give out a list this time, so I was nervous,” said Rogers.
He took the defeat in stride while also crediting his opponent. Rogers won last year's DeKalb County Spelling Bee and tied for 42nd place at the national spelling bee.
Keith Mokry, the winner, said the last couple of weeks have been crazy, but he focused on his goal.
“I’ve had two giant books of etymologies, pronunciations and word stems and I’ve just been studying my tail off," Mokry said. "I’ve been working for the past four years to try to get to this point, … so [I feel] just great.”
Some said the victory was a triumph for the entire Somonauk Middle School community.
Amanda Miller, a classmate of Mokry’s, organized a fan bus to attend the event. About 15 students paid $3 per person to make the trip to DeKalb.
“He’s an unsung hero at our school," Miller said. "He’s so smart that he doesn’t get as much attention as he deserves, but we all love to support him in whatever he does. He’s so cool.”
Mary Mokry said the support of his fellow students made a difference to her son.
“We feel really grateful that they took the time out of their day to come and support him," Mary Mokry said. "We were overwhelmed. When we heard that was happening, it was so encouraging for him.”
Mary Mokry and her husband, William, both plan to accompany their son to Washington, D.C., to watch him compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 25 to 31.
In addition to celebrating with a pizza party at Somonauk Middle School later Saturday afternoon, the school will also have an assembly before the national spelling bee to send Mokry off.
The newly-crowned DeKalb County spelling champ will also compete in the Little Ten Conference spelling bee next week. He won that contest last year.
“Matthew [Rogers] is not going to be in that. Or else we’d have to pack our sleeping bags,” joked Jay Streicher, Somonauk Middle School Principal.
In winning the DeKalb County Spelling Bee, Keith Mokry was awarded the all-expenses-paid trip to National Harbor, Md. for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, a free Encyclopedia Britannica online subscription for one year and the Samuel L. Sugarman Award, which is a minimum $100 U.S. Savings Bond, depending on his finishing place.
The runner-up received the Webster’s 3rd New International Dictionary Unabridged.
“We are very grateful and appreciative that the Daily Chronicle and Shaw Media have continued to sponsor this event so that we can send the champion to the national spelling bee,” said Amanda Christensen, DeKalb County Regional Superintendent. “I sometimes talk to other regional offices and they can’t hold this event because they can’t afford it.”