Correctly Spelling ‘Evaporation’ Nets Cooper Smith a Trip to Scripps National Spelling Bee

Jonathan Make
6 min readApr 1, 2023

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ROCK SPRINGS — Cooper Smith on Saturday afternoon won the opportunity to represent Wyoming in a closely watched national spelling contest.

The sixth-grade student from Carbon County correctly spelled the word “evaporation” in the ninth orals round of the 2023 Wyoming State Spelling Bee. This means that Smith, who is 12 years old, will go on in two months to represent the entire state at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Smith will also get a chance to end Wyoming’s spelling-champion drought. No one from the state has ever won the national contest, according to a spokesperson for the championship, which dates back to 1925. In fact, “from 1998–2022, no spellers from Wyoming placed 2nd or 3rd either,” emailed the representative, Michael Perry.

Cooper Smith is pictured with his parents, after winning the state’s spelling contest.

Taking second place in the Wyoming State Spelling Bee, held in Rock Springs at Western Wyoming Community College, was Helen Feagin. She is a sixth-grader from Teton County, where she attends Jackson Hole Middle School. The 11-year-old did not successfully spell aloud the word “parasol,” and Smith immediately afterwards did correctly spell “contradictory.” Smith then succeeded in getting the letters right in “evaporation.”

The third-place winner was Tye Tanachion, 13 years old and in the eighth grade at Clear Creek Middle School in Johnson County. He struggled to spell the word “politick,” which then left Feagin and Smith as the only contenders.

This year’s spelling words were difficult, officials acknowledged.

In order to compete on the theater stage at the community college, all 58 attendees had to first pass muster in the written rounds. Those participants were narrowed down to 25 spellers (a word that is used to describe the contestants). To advance out of the written round, the kids each had to accurately spell at least 27 out of 50 words. The top score was 38, according to the official tally kept by this journalist (who was a volunteer judge for the contest, along with real life Judge John Prokos and Bonnie Cannon.)

A few dozen additional volunteers contributed their time to make the event a success.

Some people scored the written tests, where the spellers wrote out the words that had been orally recited by emcee Dave Lerner. A longtime journalist, Lerner is officially called the bee’s pronouncer, and he must not err in saying the words aloud.

In his day job, Prokos is judge of the Circuit Court of the 3rd Judicial District in Sweetwater County. Cannon, who also lives in Rock Springs, spent her career working for members of the state’s congressional delegation. During the oral rounds, the official record keeper was Carol Jelaco, also from Rock Springs and who serves on the local school district’s board of trustees.

Contest winner Smith, like all those who placed this year, has participated in previous such contests. In his first try at this bee in 2022, he “didn’t make it past the written test,” Smith said after Saturday’s contest. “Last year, I didn’t get a study list,” so having that document for 2023 made a big difference, he added. Unlike some other contenders, he said he did not study dictionary words.

Now he plans to “study a lot” to maximize his chances of being crowned best U.S. kid-speller. He described himself as being excited to travel to the Washington, D.C., area, where the Scripps event will be held, and he hopes to see some of the tourism sites in D.C. during the trip.

Smith attends Saratoga Middle / High School.

The Sweetwater Board of Cooperative Educational Services will pay for this trip. A consortium of Rock Springs and Green River-area school districts and the community college here, SBOCES has long been the Wyoming bee’s main sponsor.

“We are very committed to literacy, in all of its facets,” including helping to support teaching students English when it is not their first language, said SBOCES’ executive director. The Wyoming bee “not only speaks to the importance of words, language in our world today, but also gives students the opportunity to refine their skills and to compete in something that is a national thing,” said the group’s head, Bernadine Craft.

“Hope springs eternal” that someone from Wyoming will win the national contest, she said. “We’ve sent some really good kids” to the U.S. bee, she added. “They are very committed … They work hard and they study hard. … There is no doubt at some point in time,” one will win.

Wyoming is not alone when it comes to having no Scripps National Spelling Bee winner. Some 19 other states also have never sent anyone to the national bee who then won it, according to the spokesperson. These states include some close to Wyoming: Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah.

Attendance this year, while healthy, appeared to have been lower than past years. Some cited the weather.

Interstate 80 was closed for a period of time on Friday between Laramie and Rawlins, a spokesperson for the Wyoming Department of Transportation noted. The closure was due to vehicle crashes amid bad weather, said WYDOT’s Andrea Staley.

Contestants said they learned from past years that they should not overly worry about their performance.

“Don’t stress too much” was such a lesson for Feagin. Still, “it’s OK to be worried,” and make sure to study, she advised. “Studying is what always saves me.”

Feagin brought her friend and fellow sixth-grader Greta Ramsey from the same school, and they also both went to this event last year. They hope to be in the contest next year, as well. Like Feagin, Ramsey also got into the oral-only portion of the bee.

Tanachion said one of his takeaways from his past performance was “don’t overthink it.” On the other hand, he added that “I feel like I under-thought that one I got wrong” today, he said about the word “politick.”

Because the bee is for students who have not yet graduated from middle school, this will be the last time that Tanachion takes part.

The national bee will be held “the week of Memorial Day 2023 at Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland,” according to the contest’s website. Further details are to come.

Last year, Harini Logan, a 14-year-old from San Antonio, won the Scripps National Spelling Bee. In the competition’s first-ever spell-off, according to the national organization, “she correctly spelled ‘moorhen,’ which is defined as ‘the female of the red grouse.’”

Harini Logan, in a photo from the national spelling bee.

Below is a list of the other contenders in the Wyoming State Spelling Bee who passed the written portion and made it into the oral-only part:

Porter Carson from McCormick Junior High in Cheyenne, 8th grade.

Daniyal Khan, Hobbs Elementary School, Cheyenne, 5th grade.

Abigail John, Casper Classical Academy, Casper 8th grade.

Grace Groskop, Clear Creek Middle School, Buffalo, 6th grade.

Nash Taggart, Davis Middle School, Evanston, 7th grade.

Gabe Deol, Lyman Intermediate School, Lyman, 7th grade.

Blake Olson, Prairie Wind Elementary, Cheyenne, 5th grade.

Emmett Barnes, Star Valley Middle School, Afton, 7th grade.

Savanna Erickson, Douglas Middle School, Douglas, 8th grade.

Ethan Gardner, Star Valley Middle School, Afton 8th grade.

Thomas Maxon, Baldwin Creek Elementary, Lander, 5th grade.

Blake Nettles, Rendezvous Elementary, Riverton, 5th grade.

Gwen Cluny, Davis Middle School, Evanston, 6th grade.

Weston DeCroo, Cloud Peak Elementary School, Buffalo, 3rd grade.

Levi Goodwin, Saratoga Elementary School, Saratoga , 5th grade.

Luke Harris, Star Valley Middle School, Afton, 7th grade.

Nicholas Lytle, Lusk School, Lusk, 5th grade.

Bronson Sasse, Moorcroft Elementary, Moorcroft, 6th grade.

Dallin Bradshaw, Lyman Intermediate School, Lyman, 8th grade.

Marie Holden, Casper Classical Academy, Casper, 8th grade.

Nicholas Thornell, Carey Jr. High, Cheyenne, 8th grade.

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Jonathan Make

I work at USPTO but my views only here. Buff about good journalism, writing, art & culture. Heart my wife, son & pets.