Kyrene Pueblo’s spelling bee champ makes it look as easy as ABC

Izzy Garcia was that toddler who preferred letters of the alphabet to treasures out of
the toy box. She taught herself to read at age 2, perfected her printing at preschool, and
competed in her first spelling bee as a fourth grader at Mirada Elementary.

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Now a seventh grader at Pueblo Middle School, Izzy’s eighth bee (class, school, district
or regional) was March 16, the day after her 13th birthday. In her first-ever appearance at
the Arizona Spelling Bee, Izzy went 35 rounds against 27 other super spellers, earning a spot in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, scheduled May 26-31, in National Harbor, Md.
During four-plus hours of competition, which also featured tricky vocabulary-meaning rounds, her words yawed from the fairly simply “dupes,” “longitude,” and “rotary” to the — what? — “albinism,” “cathect” and “mawkish.”

From Round 1 (“hoagies”) to Round 33 (“libration”), Izzy made spelling look easy, and fun.
“My toughest word by far was ‘rawin’ (and even the definition doesn’t make sense: ‘a wind
sounding of the atmosphere made by tracking a balloon with radar’), and the easiest was ‘icicle,’” she said. “I was having quite a bit of fun onstage. It was just an overwhelmingly happy experience, and I thought the crowd should know.” The audience of about 100 in the Madison Center for the Arts in Phoenix, did know. They laughed with the contestants who got “farkleberry” and “jimberjawed,” and scratched their heads at “koto” (a long Japanese zither with 13 strings) and “withies,” the plural form of the pre-12th Century word, “withy,” a slender twig.

That was the only word Izzy spelled incorrectly during all rounds, earning her second place in the bee, a huge red trophy, a trip for two including airfare and hotel to the national bee,
and $800 in travel money. First place went to eighth-grader Aliyah Alpert of Yavapai County, then 2022 state winner. Three of the top five finishers were from Maricopa County. Between August 2023 and February, nearly a half million Arizona students participated in some form of bees, from class to regionals; the state bee was hosted by the Arizona Educational Foundation.

On the final day, some contestants were clearly nervous in front of the official word
pronouncer and two-judge panel, using an index finger to write words on a palm or typing them on their thighs. Along with toe-tapping, general fidgeting and periodic yawns, they cheered each other, giving high fives, handshakes and hugs when words were spelled correctly and, especially when they were not.

“Aw, shucks,” Avery Smith-Hendricks yelled when he misdefined matriculation, but the smile remained on his face.  From “alimentation” to “zander,” some of the words were incredibly difficult. Posthumous. Nervily. Luminance. Parkour. Cutis. Plantigrade.
Grotesqueness. Volemic (the winning word). In Izzy’s previous bees, words like “comestibles,” “aggrandizement” and “bureaucrats” gave her pause. Her dad, Herb,
was an elementary school bee contestant, but Izzy will tell you — and there seems little doubt — that she is the family’s best speller. Her mom, Katie Sue, said their eldest daughter’s poise and confidence, as well as her ability to enjoy and savor the goodness of the day, made them proud.

“We loved seeing her beautiful heart in action just as much as her amazing brain,” Katie Sue said. “It is pretty amazing to see the gifts and skills that started in our little curious, word-loving, one-year-old, come to fruition in our bright, hard-working 13-year-old.”
Izzy’s all that, but that isn’t all she is. She plays tuba in Pueblo’s concert, symphonic and jazz bands, and plans to eventually audition for a spot in Corona del Sol’s topnotch marching band. Music — teaching it, composing it or performing it — is what she’d like to do someday. Izzy also takes karate lessons, and is a Girl Scout who sold a few boxes of cookies this spring — 450 of them by a rough count. She’s a voracious reader — favorite series are “Keeper of the Lost Cities,” “Warrior Cats” and “Harry Potter” — because you don’t get to be a top speller without reading. For now, Izzy will have a proper makeup: a
birthday sleepover with a best friend before she hits the spelling books for the national bee.

“I’m definitely going to work more on foreign roots as well as some other concepts like how to decode a word I’ve never heard before,” she said. The national spelling bee finals will be
broadcast live on ION the evening of Thursday, May 30.



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