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Posted: February 1, 2009 12:00 a.m.

How to spell C-H-A-M-P-I-O-N

Veterans' seventh grader wins county-wide spelling bee

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Newton County Schools' Spelling Bee champion Gaby Collantes with her trophy

The hush among the crowd parents, teachers and well-wishers was deafening as middle school students Jeremy Walton and Gaby Collantes stood side by side on the stage of Eastside High School to battle it out for the title of countywide spelling bee champion. After correctly spelling both "nubby" – which Walton misspelled – and "orchid," Collantes, a Veterans Memorial seventh grader, nabbed the title of Newton County spelling bee champion.

The contestants, made up of fourth through eighth grade students, with an alternate from each of the county’s elementary and middle schools, were disqualified one by one - many of them in the third round - after incorrectly spelling words such as "cauldron," "burnish" and "facet," leaving Collantes and Walton, a sixth grader from Cousins, as they last two standing.

And although Collantes had never before competed in a spelling bee, her win was more than beginner’s luck, according to her father Christian.

"She has always been good with English and language arts and spelling," he said. "She is constantly correcting my spelling and this [win] makes all of that worth it," he said with a laugh.

Collantes said that she wasn’t nervous during the competition but her mother Rita believes that is because her parents were both nervous enough for her. They sat in the back of the auditorium and took pictures throughout the bee, snapping various shots of Gaby during the duration of the competition.

"We were definitely much more nervous than she was," Rita said.

Doing well academically is no change for Collantes, who makes good grades in school and helps her father with his college-level course work and plays word games with her family while on trips in the car.

"She loves academics," Christian said, his voice full of pride. "Grounding Gaby is keeping her from school."

Both Collantes and Walton will continue on to the state competition later this year, Gaby as a contestant and Walton as her alternate should she not be able to attend.

"Gaby Collantes is a remarkably talented young lady that embodies the definition of a scholar," said Veterans Memorial Middle School Principal Eric Arena. "She is a member of the drama team that took top honors at the county competition earlier in the month. She took top honors for the county at the spelling bee and she is also a ‘Six Star General,’ an honor bestowed on straight-A students. I am very proud of her accomplishments and very excited for her, her family, her teachers and her school."

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