C.C. Griffin teen spells his way to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C.
By Justin Vick
It took more than an hour for C.C. Griffin Middle School students to recognize classmate Gideon Whaley among the 43 spellers remaining in the semifinals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Eighth-graders in the school cafeteria watching ESPN’s live coverage pointed at the nearby TV and shouted his name as the camera briefly showed the 14-year-old from Midland fidgeting in his seat.
By the time Gideon approached the microphone a few spellers later, students huddled around the cafeteria television hoping to hear him correctly spell the word “cenacle.” But the first letter out of Gideon’s mouth was “s” — prompting a collective groan from the crowd.
“Oh my God,” said 14-year-old Jessica Eudy, as students disappointedly walked back to their lunch trays. “I’m going to cry.”
Gideon didn’t appear shaken by the miss. He smiled as he walked away from the microphone.
After all, the two-time Cabarrus County Schools district spelling champ had already accomplished the goal he set this summer of advancing to the semifinals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Gideon acknowledged friends back home while on camera. He subtly scratched his elbow and raised his right eyebrow — much to the delight of his classmates.
Travis Eurey, 14, said he asked Gideon before he left if he was nervous about spelling on the national stage. Gideon told him, “Not really.”
Travis said he wasn’t nervous about seeing his friend on TV either, but more excited over the prospect of C.C. Griffin and the town of Midland being represented.
Casey Crenshaw, 13, lives just five minutes away from Gideon and thought it was cool to see a neighbor advance this far in the competition.
“It definitely shows that you can do anything,” Crenshaw said. “You don’t have to be from Hollywood.”
ESPN began its coverage of the Scripps National Spelling Bee at 10 a.m., just minutes before students arrived to Margaret Lawson’s second-period language arts class hoping to catch Gideon’s appearance.
“I know you’re excited,” Lawson told students as they scurried to their seats. “Gideon is the only celebrity we know.”
Lawson used the spelling bee as an incentive for students to patiently sit through a lesson on synonyms.
Down the hall, math teacher Diem Fletcher checked the Scripps National Spelling Bee’s official Web site to update students on how many children would be spelling ahead of Gideon.
Thirteen-year-old Devin Cacke said she felt a bit humbled watching the caliber of words being spelled Thursday.
“I thought he was smart, but I didn’t think he was that smart,” she said “He’s one of the cool nerds, and you don’t meet a lot of those people.”
Several eighth-graders, including Lauren Hill, Olivia Jones, Chanelle Tignor and James Dragovich, said Gideon deserved to be at the national spelling bee after training so hard. Since elementary school, he’s earned nicknames such as “dictionary” and “word check.”
“Just getting this far I think is a huge accomplishment,” said C.C. Griffin Principal James Williams.
Social studies teacher Michael Williams said he’s sure Gideon will receive a warm reception when he returns home from Washington and not just because he went so far in the bee.
“Gideon is just one of those kids who is so well liked.”
• Contact Justin Vick at [email protected] or 704-789-9138.