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East Hall Middle's Casas places 6th in statewide spelling bee

Dutch word ‘mynheer’ was his downfall after 8 rounds

POSTED: April 2, 2008 5:01 a.m.
Robin Michener Nathan/The Times

Jonathan Lee Casas of East Hall Middle, at microphone, and Micah Stewart of Valdosta Middle compete Friday morning in the 47th Annual Statewide Spelling Bee held on the campus of Georgia State University in Atlanta.

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ATLANTA — A word of Dutch origin ended an East Hall Middle School eighth-grader’s third and deepest run as a spelling bee champion.

Jonathan Casas, 14, finished sixth in the 47th Annual Statewide Spelling Bee Friday, cruising through eight words before tripping on "mynheer," which was defined as a Netherlander or Dutch-speaking man.

"Thank you," he said, leaving the stage in Georgia State University’s student center to loud applause.

Cathy Deng of Hilsman Middle School in Clarke County won the 20-student competition and now goes on to represent Georgia at the Scripps National Spelling Bee Championships in Washington, D.C., May 25-May 31.

All contestants received $25, a certificate of participation and a state bee lapel pin.

Students advanced to the state event, which was sponsored by the Georgia Association of Educators, by winning or finishing second at school, school district and regional competitions.

The competition is open to students in fourth through eighth grades.

Casas won first at East Hall Middle, placed second at the Hall County school system bee, then finished second at the regional bee at Collins Hill High School in Gwinnett County.

The Gwinnett County winner, Katherine Burden, was the fourth contestant to leave Friday’s competition.

Casas had won three years in a row in his grade at East Hall Middle. He lost at this year’s district bee to Jones Elementary School fifth-grader Parker Ramey, who finished 12 out of 28 contestants at the regional bee.

Casas’ mother, Concepcion Casas, said her soft-spoken, ultra-polite son always has been good with words.

"He started reading when he was 4," she said before Friday’s bee. "He loves to read — that’s basically it."

Casas, also a trombone player in the East Hall Middle band, said he studied some for the event. "Along with school, I’ve been busy."

He added that his plan was to relax as much as possible during the competition, "so I can focus more."

"If I’m nervous, if I have tension, then it will just throw me off my game," Casas said. "I’m just here to roll with the punches and try my best."

He may have brought one of the biggest fan bases to the competition.

In addition to his mother, Casas arrived at the event with his godmother, Felicidad Lasala, and her husband, Adan; aunt, Frocy Yapcu; and East Hall media specialist, Stephanie Wells.

Also, Jones Elementary principal Hank Ramey brought top fourth- and fifth-grade finishers — including son Parker — from that school’s bee competition, along with teachers Mike Boyle, Charles Shockley and Vic Wilson.

"I hope this inspires some of the (Jones) students to read a lot and see what it leads to," said the principal before the competition, glancing over to the contestant stage.


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