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W-I-N-N-E-R

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | February 11, 2024 1:08 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — “Stimuli,” said Amiah Van Hill, her voice echoing through the Schuler Performing Arts Center at North Idaho College. “S-t-i-m-u-l-i. Stimuli.”

Multicolored confetti rained over the stage. The crowd cheered. Amiah, an eighth grader at Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy, beamed as she was proclaimed champion of the 2024 North Idaho Spelling Bee after nine rounds.

But it wasn’t quite over yet.

Mike Nelson, who provided the words during Saturday’s bee, had transposed the official and alternate pronunciations of “facile” in the final round, causing confusion for seventh-grade Kootenai Classical Academy student Josie Sowada.

The judges conferred and decided Josie and Amiah must continue spelling.

“I was a little shocked,” Amiah said. “But I agreed with their decision. I think it was the fair thing to do.”

The stellar spellers squared of for two more rounds, until Josie misspelled “dolmen,” referring to a megalithic tomb found chiefly in Britain and France, and Amiah successfully spelled “eschew,” which means to deliberately avoid something.

Amiah was once again declared champion. 

“The result was the same,” Nelson said. “The most important thing is accuracy.”

In addition to bragging rights, Amiah won a gold trophy, a $1,000 check and an all-expense paid trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. this spring.

“It feels really good,” said Amiah, who has competed in spelling bees since she was just four years old.

A total of 37 fourth- through eighth-grade students from across the Idaho Panhandle competed in the spelling bee. Each student who made it to Saturday's regional competition received a $1,000 scholarship to North Idaho College, while the champion won a $2,000 scholarship.

The regional bee is sponsored by the Idaho Character Foundation, led by Dan and Kathryn Pinkerton. The nonprofit promotes character excellence through the community.

“I’m really proud of our students in North Idaho,” Dan Pinkerton said. “Every one of them is a champion to make it this far. I’m their biggest fan.”

Saturday was Amiah’s third time competing in the North Idaho Spelling Bee. She was last year’s runner-up and went out on the word “tawdry.”

Her mom, Rachel Van Hill, grew teary-eyed after her daughter’s big win. She proudly showed a photo of Amiah at age three, watching the Scripps National Spelling Bee on TV.

“She said, ‘I want to go there someday,’” Rachel recalled. “I’m just happy and proud to have her reach a goal she’s had for 10 years.”

The proud mom said she was probably more nervous than her daughter when the spellers went back for another round.

“This is like her Super Bowl,” Rachel said with a smile. “There’s always got to be a bit of drama.”

The Scripps National Spelling Bee is May 28 to June 1 in Washington, D.C.