Bailey takes bite out of bee

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A.R. Rucker student wins spelling bee with ‘alligator’

Meet Adam Bailey, 13, a seventh-grade student at A.R. Rucker Middle School in Lancaster.


Easy going, with a wide, braces-filled smile, Bailey is tall for his age and slim, a runner on the Lancaster High School cross country team whose favorite class is math. 

In his off-time, Baily is a Boy Scout in Troop 72, active in Second Baptist Youth, and like most teenagers, enjoys music. Favorite bands? The Strokes and, believe it or not, The Beatles.

And, oh yeah, he’s also a great speller.

How good? Good enough to be this year’s Lancaster County School District’s Spelling Bee champion, that’s how good.

Bailey, the son of Sarah and Lee Bailey of Lancaster, out-spelled 14 other district elementary and middle school spellers Tuesday night at USCL’s Bundy Auditorium to claim the district title. Next up, he will represent Lancaster County in the Charlotte Observer Regional Spelling Bee Feb. 7.

“How do I feel? Of course I feel happy about it,” Bailey said. “I feel good I made it this far.

“I was slightly nervous even though I didn’t look like it,” he said. “I just took a deep breath and everything was fine.”

This is the second time Bailey’s been to the district level spelling bee representing A.R. Rucker. Last year, he said, he got knocked out by the word “Hassock,” a thick cushion used in some churches to kneel on.

This year, Bailey won in the 14th round after out-spelling second place finisher Christian Ormand, an eighth-grade student from Buford High School knocked out by the word “luau,” a Hawaiian feast.

Bailey’s winning word? “Alligator.”

“I thought to myself, ‘I got this,’” Bailey said of his winning word.

Lancaster County School District Instructional Services Executive Director Carolyn Jordan said this year’s contest went smoothly with no “close calls to judge.”

She said it seemed as if the words that caused the most trouble for students this year were more common words such as yacht, chronic, forlorn, nightingale, and interrupt.

Jordan said she’s proud of each and every contestant because to make it to the district level, they already had to win both their class and school spelling bees. 

She said she knows from experience the intensity of a spelling bee and how it is to misspell a word in one and encouraged those knocked out early.

“They should be proud because they were already successful competitors before they got to the district spelling bee,” Jordan said. “You never forget the word that gets you; it was handkerchief one year and bureau another for me, and believe me, I know how to spell both those words to this day.”

Jordan said to her knowledge, there has never been a Lancaster County student to make it past regionals and on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee held each summer in Washington D.C.

She hopes Bailey is the one to take it all the way.

“We wish him the best as he competes in Charlotte,” Jordan said. 

Bailey attributes most of his spelling success to a natural talent inherited from his mom, a former Lancaster district spelling bee winner, who attended the Charlotte regional bee in 1980 when she was in the seventh-grade.

Lee Bailey said his son has been working hard with his mom studying word lists and word origins in preparing for the regionals.

“We’re proud of him and anything past this point is like icing on the cake,” Lee Bailey said. “We’re happy about (his win) and look forward to going and watching everybody compete in Charlotte.”

Adam Bailey said his spelling bee win has earned him a reputation as the go-to guy among his friends on issues of spelling and earned him the nickname “Dictionary.”

He said while getting to where he is now wasn’t that hard, he knows it’s going to be a whole lot different in Charlotte. Still, he said he’s getting ready for it.

“I just feel like I’ve got to study more because there’s going to be people there as good as me,” he said confidently.

A.R. Rucker Middle School Principal Phillip Mickles said the school is proud to have a young man like Bailey represent the school. He said in the four years he’s been principal the school has never had a district-level winner.

He said he and everyone else at the school is pulling for Bailey.

“I’m happy for Adam because he’s worked so hard,” Mickles said. “I think he’ll go and represent our district well in the regionals.