Eighth-grader Caleb Rimpel wins the 2020 Flagler County Spelling Bee
16 elementary and middle school students, two per school, were onstage the evening of Jan. 9 at Wadsworth Elementary, in a cafeteria as thick with suspense as it was with the smell of freshly-showered parents. A Channel Four camera on a tripod in the dead center of the room was the lone exception to the prohibition on pictures and video during the 2020 Flagler County Spelling Bee.
A preemptive admonition to the contestants that there was to be no talking between them onstage seemed unnecessary. Words were in short supply: the spoken introductions came out in quick murmurs and pronouncer Diane Dyer’s queries of “Are you ready?” were answered mostly with mute nods, as if all sound had to be saved for spelling. If there was something ironic about the competing spellers being referred to by numbers rather than letters for the duration of the bee, no one said so.
Caleb Rimpel, 13, of Christ the King Lutheran School, was Number Eight.
Some spellers had to angle the mic down toward them, where Caleb had to stoop to it. He was not the kind of speller who asked for every word’s origin, definition and sample sentence, or who took so long to finish a word that you thought he was trying to stall before one of two inevitable responses: “That is correct” or —
Can you repeat the word?
“That’s the worst job of the night,” one of the four judges was heard saying after the bee. “Ringing that bell.” Small comfort to those who heard it.
At times you had to resist nodding your head with each metronomic utterance of a letter and bite your tongue to keep yourself from mouthing the spellings. You held your breath when faced with the prospect of the word “inclusion” excluding some kid from the next round; indeed, one speller was felled by “prejudice.” Some parents could not help applauding a spelling as correct before the judges could pronounce it so.
It was the most they could do to release tension as, round by round, they saw the contestants vexed by “vacancy,” lost in the “Antarctic,” tossed by “turbulent,” crushed by “cowlick,” baffled by “bristle” and “bestow” and left jaded by “jubilant.”
The further into the bee, the more requests for repeated words, for word origins, for definitions and sentences. By the time the fifth and deadliest round was over, the bell had dinged for “corgi,” “riviera,” “firmament” and “deodorant” in quick succession.
All that remained was for “duopoly” and “marsupial” to bring Caleb to a round of a single word, the misspelling of which would have brought all the previous round’s contestants back into competition.
Can I have the definition?
verb (used with object)
1. to put out (a fire, light, etc.); put out the flame of (something burning or lighted)
2. to put an end to or bring to an end; wipe out of existence; annihilate
3. to obscure or eclipse, as by superior brilliance.
Originating in the 16th century, from the Latin “stinguere,” meaning “to quench.”
No definition or origin was requested, however, as Caleb extinguished the competition and was crowned the 2020 Flagler County spelling champion.
Christ the King principal Eric Brown was “very proud.”
“It’s only the second time we’ve been to the Flagler County Spelling Bee,” Brown said, “so it’s cool for one of our students to get this far.”
Caleb, he said, “is a bright young man.”
A bright young man who held a two-tiered tower of a trophy and a plaque from Channel Four after the participant medals and runner-up awards had been handed out, and confessed he had not studied as much as you might expect; no index cards, just practice words from an email.
“I’m just naturally good at spelling,” Caleb said (though he admitted getting nervous on “marooned”), “and I’m competitive.” Parents Josh and Rachel Rimpel, both teachers at Christ the King, were ready to celebrate with him.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Josh said. “I quizzed him very little, for like five minutes.”
“We’re gonna go get some ice cream,” Rachel announced, and to Caleb it seemed like a better award than a trophy.
Come February, Caleb will go to Jacksonville University to represent Flagler Schools at the 76th Annual First Coast Regional Spelling Bee. In the meantime, hopefully no one said what he was getting the ice cream for — the champion had done enough for one night without some wise guy asking him to spell “Neapolitan.”