The PLT Middle School student body gathered Wednesday afternoon to give a fellow student a send off to a national competition. You might think it is was an athletic event, but you would be wrong. This young man is an athlete but it is his academic prowess that has earned him a trip to our nation’s capital.
PLT#3 eighth-grader Alex Ottens will be competing in the prestigious Scripps National Spelling Bee, which he earned by winning a regional spelling bee in February.
Ottens bested over thirty-one competitors, ranging from 5th through 8th grades, at the R.O.E. #47 Regional Bee which encompasses schools from Lee, Ogle, and Whiteside Counties.
Ottens’ spelling prowess began when he won the class championship in fourth grade. In sixth grade he was the champion from the PLT campus and finished fifth at the Regional competition. Last year he finished runner-up at school to Cadence Bollman.
This year he felt he had a great chance of spelling his way to D.C.. He commented that he had never thought about making it to the National Bee until he began studying for this year’s school competition. “I really got sure that I could do it when I went to the Regional ‘Prep Night’ and saw the other competitors and how they were doing.” Ottens spelled “superlative” in round 13 of the contest for the win.
Surprisingly, he is not a huge fan of reading, which is a common trait among many great spellers. So, you may be wondering then what he does credit with helping himself get to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. ?
His strength is his memory. “I can look at a long list of words and memorize them pretty easily. I just find it’s much easier to memorize the word than to figure out a bunch of clues on how to spell them.” When asked if he ever uses phonics and the rules associated with spelling, he said, “Learning those doesn’t help when some words don’t follow the rules.” He says if he doesn’t have the word memorized, double letters and Cs and Ks cause him problems.
Ottens uses his gift of memorization not only for spelling and school work but he also does very well in card games. “I play cards with my parents and I can usually figure out what everybody else has,” he said laughingly.
Ottens teacher and mentor, Emily Higgins has been running the spelling bee at the PLT 6-12 campus for the past six years and is thrilled for her pupil’s opportunity.
His parents, grandparents, and Higgins will be attending the national event. Higgins is extremely excited to be able to attend and is very grateful to the school district for paying for her transportation and some accommodations. Once Ottens arrives he will participate in several activities and field trips arranged by the Scripps organization.
Despite his phenomenal memorizational skills, the 14 year-old still spends hours studying from a list provided for the competition. The list consists of three levels, the third of which this reporter struggled to not only pronounce but had no chance of spelling.
His Dad, Chad, has been working with him since October in preparation for the spelling competitions. “Before the Regional competition my dad would ask me 11 columns of words (330) each night.” He also studies with Higgins 3-4 times each week during lunch. In Washington, the first two rounds are words from the lists provided before the competition but the third round can be any word from Webster’s 3rd Unabridged English Dictionary. The national competition also includes knowing the definition of words. The first round is strictly spelling with one shot to move on to round two. The second round requires the competitor to give the correct definition of a given word from a list of three choices.
Asked if he gets tired of practicing he responded, “It might be annoying to do it sometimes, but I know it’s helping me do better.”
With a no pressure attitude heading to the national stage, Ottens has lofty goals for his future including attending MIT in Boston. “I have been writing my own video games (code) and posting them to websites. I don’t get many views because nobody knows who I am, so I’m hoping to use this trip to spread the word about my games!”
Seemingly more excited about the experience to see Washington, D.C. than the Spelling Bee, Otten said, “If I go out in the first round, I to get to go to Busch Gardens! I think it’s going to be fun. A free trip to D.C.!”.
Alex is the son of Chad and Ashley Ottens of Lyndon.
The competition begins on Tuesday, May 30 and can be seen on the ION streaming service. Scripps National Spelling Bee Website
Congratulations, once again, to Alex, his parents, grandparents, Uncle Troy, and Mrs. Higgins on earning this thrilling experience! You have a great support team, Alex, plus those rooting for you back home. Good luck and most of all, enjoy your time in Washington, D.C.