A 10-year-old from Stevens Creek Elementary School outlasted 24 competitors Monday to take first prize in the Columbia County Spelling Bee.
Charles Li easily handled the winning word, “wanton,” after cruising through a list that included “maunder, velociraptor, illuminati and epizootic” in 12 rounds of competition at Grovetown Middle School.
Nic Dai, a seventh-grader from Stallings Island Middle, stayed with Charles through two rounds of head-to-head competition, but got tripped up by “provolone” in the end.
Li admitted to studying a “little bit” for the contest, but couldn’t explain from where his spelling powers were derived.
“I don’t know,” said the fifth-grader. “I like to read, but I don’t really read a lot.”
His father, Honglin Li, a medical research scientist at Georgia Regents University, said his son has extraordinary ability to remember things. He said they first noticed it in his music lessons. Charles, who plays violin and piano, was easily able to commit long pieces of music to memory.
“He has kind of an amazing memory,” Li said. “For some reason he was always able to remember his songs.”
He said his son is able to look at words and recall them when he has the need.
“He has been winning since third grade,” he said, referring to Charles’ first-place finishes at Stevens Creek three years in a row.
Brenda Williams, a sixth-grade social studies teacher at Grovetown Middle, who has coordinated the bee for more than a decade, said she is always amazed at the bright young minds she encounters each year.
“I’m always so impressed,” she said. “They hear the words and spell with such confidence.”
Williams said over the years she has learned quite a few things about how to manage a stage of eager spellers and an audience of anxious parents.
“I’ve learned that these children are much better spellers than I ever was,” she said. “I thought I was a good speller, but now I know better.”