Speller competing for national title

By Ryan Lengerich

His friends call him Zack, but Tuesday he will be known simply as “Speller No. 141.”

That number will be assigned to Clovis’ Zachary Gillooly when he represents eastern New Mexico in a three-day competition this week at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

Sponsored by Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico, the Yucca Junior High student earned the right to challenge 259 of the nation’s most talented young spellers from each state and several foreign countries when he won the eastern New Mexico regional competition in March. Two students from Gallup and one from Albuquerque won their regional titles and will make the trip to Washington.

Since correctly spelling “dipsomania” to win the regional crown on March 8, the 12-year-old Gillooly has been studying for nationals with his father. He said he is nervous and knows the competition will be stiff.

“Those kids are smart and they know a lot of words,” Gillooly said. “They have been studying for many years.”

Gillooly said he hasn’t met any other competitors, but remembers seeing Samir Sudhir Patel on television when the Dallas speller tied for third in 2003. Patel will compete again this year.

The event will have five rounds with the opening round being a 25-word written exam. Words are chosen by a panel of three and the word-selection process begins about a year before the event. The final rounds will be nationally televised Thursday on ESPN 2.

Gillooly said Greek words give him the most trouble.
“They have all those letters mixed up from English,” he said.

Gillooly’s first spelling competition was in fourth grade, he said. Last year he finished third at the regional competition. At this year’s regional bee, his mother said she would stare at the floor as her youngest son dictated letters.

“I was so nervous when he was going through the regional spelling bee I couldn’t even watch him,” Teresa Gillooly said. “I think this is one of the most exciting things that has happened to us.”

This will be Gillooly’s first trip to the nation’s capital. He only drove through the city on his way to a family vacation in Virginia two years ago and said he is looking forward to seeing the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials.

Teresa Gillooly said she knew her son would be a special student when he began reading before entering kindergarten.

“He absolutely loves school. In eight years he has missed only one day,” she said. “We’re just excited to get there and see how everything is and get with the other students.”