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2020 Cochise County Spelling Bee winner Luke Perolino from Willcox Middle School waits to receive his trophy from Cochise County School Superintendent Jacqui Clay after last year's competition at First Baptist Christian Academy. Perolino will look to defend his title against 25-30 competitors in this year's spelling bee on Saturday.

COCHISE COUNTY — How do you spell “adaptation”?

This year’s Cochise County Spelling Bee will commence virtually over Zoom on Saturday, Feb. 13 at 10 a.m. to abide by the safety guidelines in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that won’t stop the top spellers in the area from showing off their linguistic talents.

Cochise County Superintendent Jacqui Clay said that 26-30 students will be participating in this year’s competition, including homeschooled students and students from private schools competing as their own districts.

“This is our first time doing this,” said Clay, “We have transformative thoughts and actions, there’s always chance of this not going like we planned ... We have a great staff, county, educators, families and students. It’s because of their patience and understanding that we are able to to this.”

Clay said her administration decided to hold this year’s event virtually via Zoom after consulting the county health department.

Outreach and Spelling Bee Coordinator Ben Reyna said that all competitors will be participating in this year’s competition via Zoom from their schools or district buildings, and competitors will be required to be seen from the top of the head to their knees.

“We have also recommended that if the students are set in on Zoom in a traditional sense with their own laptop, that they wear a headset,” said Reyna. “We’re running this event to be models of integrity and kindness, we want the kids to have a good time and we’re asking all of the adults to model that behavior.”

Reyna said that members of the public can attend the event through a live-stream hosted on the Cochise County Superintendent’s Facebook page.

Reyna said that the judges for this years event are Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels, Division II Superior Court Judge John Kelliher and Division I Superior Court Judge Laura Cardinal.

“It was almost expected that we would do it virtually,” said Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels, “It’s all about keeping everyone safe ... We have some very smart students in Cochise County.”

Judge Laura Cardinal said that this is the third time she’s participated in the county spelling bee as a judge, saying how “It’s a bright event in so many ways. The kids are stars. Spelling counts in so many aspects of life. The kids are fun to watch and it’s a fun and nice event to participate in.”

Clay and Reyna said that the judges for this year’s spelling bee will be observing the competitors from the Cochise County Heath Department building.

The pronouncer for the event will be Sierra Vista Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Melany Edwards-Barton.

“I am excited the Cochise County Spelling Bee is still taking place,” Edwards-Barton said in an email, “2020 taught us to be innovative and to adapt to changes. The decision to push forward with the Spelling Bee is an important lesson in adaptation for our youth. The competitors have worked extremely hard to get to this point.”

Reyna said that last year’s winner of the county spelling bee from Willcox Middle School, Luke Perolino, will compete again to defend his title as an eighth grader.

According to Sierra Vista Unified School District (SVUSD) Public Information Officer Valerie Weller, SVUSD will have two students representing the district in the competition: Ja’Tavious Lewis, a fifth grader from Bella Vista Elementary School and Skylar Aube, also in fifth grade from Pueblo Del Sol Elementary School (PDS).

Clay commented on the importance of finding a way to hold the event despite the adversity.

“The goal is to continue the spirit of the spelling bee,” Clay said. “Any challenge that COVID puts in our face, we will go through it.”

Sheriff Dannels agreed.

“It always impresses me to listen to the talent of these kids,” he said. “They work so hard to make sure they make it to the stage. All of them are winners by getting up on that stage.”

Edwards-Barton is lying forward to another great event, despite the changes.

“I am hoping to see a return of some of last year’s competitors along with some new ones,” she said.

“It takes a lot of courage to get up in front of all of those people and take a chance. The competitors are so intelligent and brave. I am also hoping there will be a large audience online cheering them on. They deserve the recognition.”