, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 29, 2014

Top spellers foes with history

Two have split top spot for five years

It all came down to “puffery” and “vortex” Friday night at the Muskogee Civic Center.

Nicholas Stark, 14, of Howe lasted 24 rounds and spelled both words correctly to win the 2014 Eastern Oklahoma State Spelling Bee.

Stark said the last few words surprised him with their simplicity.

“Puffery tripped me up because I’ve never heard it before,” Stark said. “The words definitely got easier when they got into the reserve list. I’d memorized the regular list, but not the reserve.”

The reserve list came into play because 321 words were needed to decide the outcome, said Cassandra Gaines, a judge at the event.

“We also added instant replay this year,” Gaines said. “We used it five times. It helped out immensely.”

Approximately 170 students qualified for the spelling contest this year, and the first round sent more than 70 of them packing. After round two, just a third remained. After that, eliminations continued steadily until round 12, when four students locked wits until round 15.

Richelle Zampella, a student at Oklahoma School for the Blind, finished in second place, and Jerret Carpenter, from Wister, finished third.

To see more photos and to order reprints from this event, see the gallery at

Stark and Zampella each have finished in either first or second place in the last five years of the spelling bee. Allen Stark, Nicholas’ father, said after losing to Zampella the previous two years, his son was setting his sights on winning it all this year.

“This is his fifth year in it and the last year he can qualify,” Stark said. “After last year’s loss, he told me this year he had the utmost respect for her, but he had to take her down.”

After Zampella misspelled “winch,” Nicholas Stark stepped into the limelight and did just that.

Stark said he felt “happy and accomplished” after earning his trip to Washington, D.C., to compete in the national spelling bee.

“I’m going to do the best I can as an Oklahoman,” he said. “I’m excited and a little anxious. I’ve been there before, and that was crazy. But this year I have a new strategy. I’m going to memorize languages and exceptions and see where that gets me.”

Susan Hoog, the director of the bee, said this year’s event was fantastic for the students and for the city of Muskogee.

“We had such a big crowd,” Hoog said. “And so many of them stayed for most of the event. As long as I’ve been the director, this was the most rounds it has gone.”

Hoog also said she noticed the words got easier as the reserve list was used, but that didn’t bother her.

“We used what we were sent,” she said. “If they had burned through that list, we would have cracked open a dictionary. It was a broad and vast group this year. It can be taxing to have this many, but next year we’ll see what the possibilities bring.”

Reach Travis Sloat at (918) 684-2908 or

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