Riker Fesperman says he envisions words in his head as if they were on a computer screen or typewriter, spelling them slowly letter by letter.
His style led to success Saturday morning as he spelled "geronimo" and "egalitarian" correctly in Round 16 to win the La Salle, Marshall and Putnam County Spelling Bee in the Ottawa High School auditorium.
Fesperman advances to the Grand Finals at WEEK TV Studios, Friday, March 22, in East Peoria.
"I go slow, I don't go too fast, so I don't mess up the word," Fesperman said, acknowledging there wasn't a word that he was uncertain of during the bee.
Fesperman, an eighth-grader at Waltham Elementary in Utica, finished as the runner-up last year to Shea Rathburn, of Peru Parkside.
Finishing as this year's runner-up, Corinne Francis, an eighth-grader at Ottawa Shepherd, also finished among the top four spellers last year. She misspelled "accommodate" in Round 16 of this year's competition.
As the winner, Fesperman received a $50 gift certificate to Prairie Fox Books in Ottawa, a $200 cash prize provided by the William Ieuter Trust and a first-place plaque. His school also will receive the Stretch Miller Memorial Spelling Bee traveling plaque for one year. The plaque has a space for engraving the year, name and school of each annual winner.
Fesperman said he studied the provided lists of words
"I did all the words I could," he said. "If I missed some, I'd write them down, and go over them as many times as possible."
Fesperman said science is his favorite school subject, and that picking a favorite book is hard, but he enjoys reading science fiction and fantasy.
Francis said she knew the word she misspelled in Round 16, but she was nervous. She studied from the lists of words asked in previous regional spelling bees.
"I tried to focus on what I was being asked," said Francis, who is in band and choir. "I tried to ask a lot of questions to help me keep calm."
She received a $50 gift certificate to Prairie Fox Books, a $100 cash prize provided by the William Ieuter Trust and a second-place plaque. Francis said she likes art and music and her favorite book of late is "Dear Rachel Maddow," which she highly recommends.
Both of the final spellers displayed sportsmanship. Francis could be seen whispering to students encouraging remarks after they missed words, and Fesperman was quick to compliment Francis after the bee during his interview.
Thirty spellers participated in Saturday's regional spelling bee. Ten were eliminated in the first two rounds and eight in Round 3.
Matthew Towne, a seventh-grader at Ottawa Shepherd, and Aubry Hawkins, an eighth-grader at Peru Parkside, advanced to the final four. Towne was eliminated in Round 11 with the word "semolina" and Hawkins in Round 12 with the word "imam."
The 16-round bee is among the longest, said Regional Superintendent Chris Dvorak after Saturday's contest.