SIERRA VISTA — After going nine rounds, Luke Perolina, a Willcox Middle School seventh-grader, won the 2020 Cochise County Spelling Bee on Saturday.

Perolina was up against the competition’s second-place speller, Marissa Paz, a Pearce Elementary School eighth-grader, who stumbled in the ninth round when she misspelled “sashay.”

After correctly spelling “university” followed by “krypton” in the confirmation round, Perolina clinched the spot as Cochise County’s top speller and will be advancing to the state spelling bee in Phoenix on March 21.

The son of Rosalie and Linmer Perolina, Luke credits his parents and English Language Arts teacher Maureen Johnston for helping him study “tough words” to prepare him for Saturday’s competition.

“Some people say I’m smart, but I don’t want to sound arrogant,” he said. “I’ve always been a good speller because I listen carefully to how words are pronounced and then listen to the syllables. I practice sounding them out and pay attention to how words are spelled, especially when I see new words.” Perolina said he didn’t expect to win the county bee, so the event’s outcome came as “a really neat surprise” for him.

He also said the words were easier than he expected, but anticipates the state competition in Phoenix will be a lot tougher.

“I’m both nervous and excited about the state spelling bee, and will be studying extra hard to get ready for it in the next few weeks,” he said.

Paz, the county’s second place speller, said she got ready for the competition by studying during her lunch break with her language arts teacher.

While Benson did not have a speller in the competition, St. David School sixth-grader Jaxon Savage and Pomerene Elementary School sixth-grader Aaron Edington represented their schools in the county event.

Savage was among the top nine spellers Saturday by making it to the competition’s sixth round.

He tackled words like lamentable, remorseful, gungho and insulin before stumbling on “placards” in round six. In fact, five of the nine spellers that made it to the sixth round did not advance.

The son of Jeff and Ashley Savage of St. David, Jaxon is the middle child of three children, with a brother in eighth-grade and a younger sister in first grade. All three are enrolled in St. David schools.

“Every day I would study by looking at each word, say it, and spell it out five times each,” Jaxon said. “My mom would test me every morning at 5:00 a.m.”

Jaxon said that he and his mother have been practicing the words since he returned to school from Christmas break.

“I had fun being in the spelling bee even though it made me kind of nervous,” he said. “My teacher, Mrs. Kading encouraged us to participate and I am glad I did. I am already preparing for next year.”

Pomerene School competitor Aaron Eddington is the son of Kevin and Kimberly Eddington. His father is a Pomerene middle school social studies and science teacher.

“I was really nervous up there,” Aaron said of the competition. “My whole stomach was twisting and turning while I was spelling the words. I studied by finding really hard words and then learning how to spell them. I practiced with my mom and dad and won my school’s spelling bee so I could compete in the county one.”

Saturday’s spellers came from all over Cochise County. While 29 students qualified for the event by winning their school’s competition, three of the qualifiers did not compete.

“This is one of the smallest spelling bees we’ve had since I’ve been involved with it,” said Johanna Scott, who organized the event and served as its coordinator. “These kids did a fantastic job,” she said, adding, “Every single one of these kids is a winner in my book.”

Similar accolades were echoed by Melany Edwards-Barton, Sierra Vista Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, who served as the event’s pronouncer.

“I am so impressed with these kids,” she said. “They are really brave to get up here in front of all these people and compete under pressure like this.”

For the first time this year, the event was held at First Baptist Christian Academy in Sierra Vista.

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