Alabama’s Erin Howard charms spelling bee: ‘Give me a word I know’


Not only is Alabama’s Erin Howard one of the nation’s best spellers, she had a little fun proving it.

A 12-year-old from Huntsville, Erin was eliminated during the championship night of the National Spelling Bee in Washington. Before misspelling Klydonograph, she was one of just 11 competitors remaining. According to Merriam-Webster, a Klydonograph is “an instrument that makes a photographic record of electric surges in power lines.”

Still, the moment never seemed too big for Erin, who attends Mountain Gap School. 

As she approached the microphone to attempt to spell the word that led to her elimination, Dr. Jacque Bailly — the longtime pronouncer of the spelling bee — asked Erin, “How’s it going?”

Erin waved her arms and said, “I don’t even know anymore.”

That burst of perhaps unexpected honesty left to a brief chorus of laughter amid the tension-filled atmosphere.

Then again, Bailly maybe knew Erin was up for a little chitchat before attempting to spell a word most of the world has never even heard.

During the morning session Thursday, Erin approached the microphone and immediately went sassy.

“OK, you really have to give me a word I know right now,” Erin said. After a slight dramatic pause, she added, “Really.”

A flummoxed Bailly could only respond, “I’m trying.”

By this point, Erin was becoming perhaps a star of the spelling bee.

After Bailly gave her “apparentement,” Erin pursed her lips in bewilderment and said, “I’m sorry, did you misunderstand my request?”

A minute later, Erin typed the words out with her fingers — sans keyboard — and correctly spelled it, letting out a brief whoop before racing back to her seat with arms extended in jubilation.

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Erin missed the correct spelling by two letters – calling for a “c” instead of a “k” and an “i” instead of a “y” in Klydonograph.

The spelling bee champion will be crowned Thursday night, concluding a competition that began on Tuesday.

Erin was competing in her second consecutive National Spelling Bee and spelled her first word on Thursday night correctly: strisciando – in a slurred or smooth manner, used as a direction in music.

She was aiming to be Alabama’s first national spelling bee champ since Julie Junkin of Pickens County in 1974.

Earlier Thursday, she spelled four words correctly to reach the championship night along with 14 fellow competitors.

But once the bell rang that signaled her elimination, Erin smiled and said “thank you” before walking off the stage.

The National Spelling Bee competition began Tuesday when the students took a written test. On Wednesday, Howard correctly spelled the two words asked of her and she was among 188 competitors remaining who had not misspelled a word. 

The 50 competitors from those 188 were chosen for the finals based on the scores on the written tests. 

The 50 were whittled on Thursday morning to the 15 who advanced to Thursday night’s championship round on ESPN. Four of the 15 misspelled words before Erin, who was the first speller in the second round.

She has two years of eligibility remaining for the spelling bee.

Erin was sponsored by Adventure Travel of Birmingham.

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