Rebekah Zeigler has found out in eighth grade, her life is much busier than in years past.
Still, the Aplington Middle School student found enough time to prepare for her final Lee-Ogle-Whiteside Regional Spelling Bee – and for the fifth year in a row, the Polo 13-year-old earned a trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Zeigler beat 38 other participants from three counties Feb. 21 to win the regional bee in 28 rounds at Dixon High School's Wiltz Auditorium.
The national competition is May 26-31 in National Harbor, Maryland.
It wasn’t quite like the 37-round marathon Zeigler had to survive last year, or the 43 from two years ago.
For the final 20 rounds, Zeigler and Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico eighth-grader Lauren Cox went head-to-head before Cox added an extra ‘c’ and ‘u’ on "oculist" – another name for an eye doctor.
“It was just as exciting being here. It didn’t make it any less exciting or just as difficult,” Rebekah said. “There’s always good competition, and there was more this year. It was a good bee.”
The pair made it through the event’s master list of 300 words before going to a more challenging list after the 26th round, where Zeigler mastered the drink flavor "sarsaparilla" and Cox danced through a form of polka called "schottische."
Once in the new list, Zeigler made it through "rapscallion," and Cox sounded her way through "specious." Zeigler then perfected "begrudgingly" before Cox failed on "oculist."
“I had never heard of that word before,” Lauren said. “I tried to sound it out. It tricked me.”
Zeigler made it though "dalliance" to secure her spot at the national bee.
“She was really good,” Rebekah said about Lauren. “She hadn’t been there before. I was expecting someone to maybe drag it out, but I had no idea Lauren was going to do so well.”
Unlike a year ago, where competitors were gradually chipped out after each round, 35 competitors were knocked out after seven rounds.
Austin Shugars, a seventh-grader at Amboy Junior High, turned the "ph" on "ephemeral" into an "f" in the eighth round. It was a word he had seen before, but didn't pay a whole lot of attention to.
“I did not remember that one at all from the study list,” said Austin, who competed in his third regional bee. “I knew it was going to take one weird turn somewhere. It just happened there was a ‘ph’ in there.”
Wyatt Worthington of Tilton Elementary in Rochelle also was knocked out in the eighth round. The fifth-grader tried his hand at "egregious," a word he had never heard of before and tried to spell in a way similar to "aggression."
“I never even saw it on paper,” said Wyatt, who added that he "got lucky" by making it as far as he did. “I didn’t study that one.”
All of Aplington's eighth-grade class and a few younger students cheered for Rebekah from the auditorium's balcony level.
Principal Mark Downey made it possible after discussing with Rebekah about wanting more than just a few students to come and watch her perform.
“She did awesome,” Downey said. “It’s maybe a once-in-a-lifetime thing to have a girl who does something like that."
Aplington has its fifth championship: three from Rebekah and two more from Christopher Rademacher in 2012 and 2013.
“More and more kids are learning that there’s a way to participate here successfully, and more kids are doing it," Downey said.
Lauren, of Tampico, was PLT’s second straight top five finisher; Dutch Crady finished fifth last year.
“I’m glad to have the opportunity,” Lauren said. “I had a good time. I learned a lot of new words, and I learned what it was like here.”
For Rebekah, the routine continues as it did the previous four years, but will also find time to enjoy life as an eighth-grader.
“Eighth grade is pretty busy,” Rebekah said. “I’ll fit it in when I can. I’ll have fun with it. It’s my last year, and I’ll make the most of it. It gets harder every year. I’ll just study more.”