By placing first at the Lee, Ogle and Whiteside County Regional Spelling Bee Championship in March with the word “superlative,” eighth grader Alexander Ottens of Lyndon secured a spot in the 95th Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Ottens, who is 14, said he’s not nervous, calling the achievement “really cool.”
His goal as he enters the competition with 230 others is to reach the final round.
That’s where the prize money kicks in, starting at $2,000 and going up to $50,000 for the champion.
The opening ceremony is Monday, and the preliminary round is Tuesday.
Should Ottens advance, the quarterfinals and semifinals will be Wednesday and the finals June 1.
Students and staff at Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico 6-12 Campus gave Ottens a sendoff Wednesday. The family departed on the road trip Thursday.
Emily Higgins, special education instructor and adviser for the PLT spellers, will leave Saturday to join the family cheering section.
Higgins, who helped restart the spelling bee program after a hiatus of several years, says Ottens has a “natural ability” and a knack to see and memorize words. She said she enjoys his sense of humor and is proud to support him in this journey.
During the winter months, the students studied and practiced together every Wednesday in Higgins’ classroom. Ottens started as a sixth grader, when he placed fifth in the regional bee.
The team practices under Higgins have paid off. Other recent PLT spellers include Lauren Cox, who was second in 2019 after the 20-round showdown against eventual winner Rebekah Zeigler, and Dutch Crady who was in the top five in 2018.
“We study and take it seriously, and we have contenders,” Higgins said.
Ottens hopes to visit the Busch Gardens Theme Park, the National Mall and the Holocaust Museum while in the D.C. area. The itinerary allows for breaks in the competition so the spellers can participate in other activities.
The family also will make a stop in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, while en route.
Since winning the regional bee, Ottens has practiced a minimum of an hour each night with the help of his parents, Ashley and Chad.
Academically, Alex says he’s good at math and writing stories. He says he likes coding and computer science, even coding a few of his own video games. His favorites are Minecraft and Rise of Rain. He’s also involved in scholastic bowl, baseball, football, basketball, track and church confirmation.
The bee is just the kickoff for Ottens’ summer. After the bee, he’ll fly out to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming for his eighth grade class trip.
How to watch
Early rounds through the semifinals will streamed be on ION Plus, Bounce XL and spellingbee.com. The semifinal broadcast will be on ION and Bounce at 8 p.m. May 31.
Finals will be broadcast live on ION and Bounce at 8 p.m. June 1.
Other Scripps networks Defy TV, Grit, ION Mystery and Laff will show the semis and finals.
Visit spellingbee.com/watch and enter your ZIP code for how to watch in your area.