By Ben Calwell
For the Saturday Gazette-Mail
ELEANOR -- Having a last name long associated with dictionaries, Hurricane Middle School eighth-grader Robert Webster seems destined to win spelling bees.
Webster did just that Thursday evening, when he correctly spelled "steroid" to win the Putnam County Spelling Bee in 10 rounds at the Putnam Career & Technical Center.
Lakeside Elementary fifth-grader Rebekah Dimsdale was the runner-up. She left a "p" out of "applause," which gave Robert the opportunity to win.
Robert and Rebekah both earned the right to compete in the Gazette-Mail Regional Spelling Bee on March 16 at Capital High School in Charleston. The winner of that contest will advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May in Washington, D.C.
The regional bee is co-sponsored by the Higher Education Policy Commission and will be televised by WSAZ's myZ TV. The SMART529 program will award the regional champion with a $2,500 college savings account.
Although Robert said he was nervous during the competition, he appeared calm throughout the spelling rounds.
"I wasn't really expecting to win, but I suppose with all the studying I've done, I pulled through," he said.
To prepare for the bee, he said, he studied word origins. He also likes to read, especially fiction, and he said that helped him to recognize a variety of words.
He's looking forward to the regional bee.
"I'm going to give it my best shot," he said.
Family members hugged him after the competition.
"It's awesome -- we're thrilled," said his mother, Mel Webster.
"We're very proud of him," said his father, John Webster.
Rebekah said she did a lot of "last-minute" studying. She likes to read, too, but she also credited her teachers at Lakeside Elementary for helping her.
"It's because of my teachers," she said.
Her parents were also in attendance.
"I'm just very proud of her," said her father, William Dimsdale.
For winning the bee, Robert received a Kindle e-reader, leather case and a $50 Amazon gift card donated by Putnam County Bank. As the runner-up, Rebekah received a Kindle courtesy of Rock Branch Community Bank.
Both students also received trophies and certificates, as did the rest of the competitors.
Twenty students in the fourth through eighth grades representing Putnam County's elementary and middle schools, as well as Teays Valley Christian School, competed. Each student won his or her respective school's spelling bee to qualify for the county championship.
Before the competition, spelling bee coordinator Sherry Craigo, a curriculum specialist for Putnam County Schools, gathered the students around her to explain the rules and procedures.
"Try your best not to be nervous, and take your time when you spell," she told them.
Afterwards, Craigo said she gets nervous before each spelling bee.
"I want everything to go well. The kids are great and end up doing a good job," she said.
Karen Nowviskie, director of early childhood education and community outreach for Putnam County Schools, was the master of ceremonies. She reminded the students that they were all winners for having won their school bees.