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Keystone Heights sixth-grader calmly wins Clay County Spelling Bee

Jillian Huntley correctly spells 'cauterize' to advance to NE Florida Regionals

Posted 2/23/24

LAKE ASBURY – Just like she did with her 10 previous words, Jillian Huntley calmly asked three questions about her championship round word at Thursday night’s Clay County District Spelling Bee. …

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Keystone Heights sixth-grader calmly wins Clay County Spelling Bee

Jillian Huntley correctly spells 'cauterize' to advance to NE Florida Regionals


Posted

LAKE ASBURY – Just like she did with her 10 previous words, Jillian Huntley calmly asked three questions about her championship round word at Thursday night’s Clay County District Spelling Bee.

Then she stepped up and, without hesitation, answered.

“Cauterize. C-A-U-T-E-R-I-Z-E. Cauterize.”

Parents and school officials waited for two excruciating seconds for judge Amanda Strickland to say “correct” or ring a bell for a wrong answer.

“Correct.”

The Keystone Heights sixth-grader flashed a calm, soft smile. 

“I’ve always been a good speller,” Jillian said after receiving her first-place trophy – and a trip to the 14-county Northeast Florida Regionals at LaVilla School of the Arts in Jacksonville on March 25. That winner will advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee at National Harbor, Maryland, on May 28.

The Bee started with 39 contestants from the county’s public and private schools. With words like “luciferin,” “coccidiosis,” “avens,” “Pleiades,” “pronaos,” “retinitis pigmentosa” and “Trinidadian,” 34 contestants were eliminated in the first four rounds.

It took eight rounds to pare the field to three – Jillian, Aidan Watt of Lakeside Junior High and Peyton Holloway of St. Johns Classical Academy-Fleming Island.

Jillian correctly spelled “ficus,” Aidan spelled “cataclysmic” and Peyton spelled “Florentine” to move to the 10th round.

When Aidan misspelled “peradventure,” and Peyton missed “extraneous,” Jillian won with a word that meant “burn the skin or flesh with a heated instrument or caustic substance, typically to stop bleeding or prevent the wound from becoming infected.”

Jillian said her favorite subject in school is math, but she spent “15 to 30 minutes a day, when I have time,” studying the list of Spelling Bee words.

Some of the other words she correctly spelled were “unscathed,” “decimation,” “rhythmically” and “campanology.”

Jillian said she’s competed in five Bees. She attended Melrose Elementary last year and won the Putnam County Bee. At Keystone, she can keep spelling for two more years since the limits are 16 years or not past eighth grade.

Before she left for Lake Asbury Junior High, Keystone Heights third graders made he a good luck poster that read: “We Bee Lieve in You.” Her parents had the sign in the audience.

In addition to having a knack for remembering words from the hand guide and being a good speller, Jillian said she also relies on “sounding out words.”

Principal Elizabeth Turbeville was euphoric about the win. She said she texted teachers and staff throughout the competition to keep them informed.

“I am beyond proud,” Turbeville said. “I’m glowing with pride. This is the best part of my job. Being a principal isn’t easy, but nights like this make it worth it.”

Classmates heard about Jillian during Friday morning’s announcements, and the school is expected to further celebrate the victory on Monday.

“She is a sweet, spirited girl,” Turbeville said. “You really want to get behind someone like her.”

Jillian brought the Spelling Bee trophy home to Keystone Heights for the third consecutive year. Junior/Senior High’s Rena Reddish won in 2022 by correctly spelling “dicey.” She followed that up by winning with “eradicate” last year.