Morris girl wins regional spelling bee

Mollie Dugan of Morris Central School competes in the 13th annual Regional Spelling Bee at SUNY Oneonta on Saturday. Dugan won the bee, qualifying her to participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May. 

ONEONTA — Cradling in her arm, a Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Monica (Mollie) Dugan beamed before leaving the stage. After spelling the word "junco" correctly, Dugan became the winner of the 13th annual Regional Spelling Bee held Saturday at the State University College at Oneonta. 

Dugan competed with 19 other contestants from middle school districts in the Delaware, Chenango, Madison, and Otsego County region. The dictionary she took home was one prize; the other is a paid trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee near Washington, D.C., in May, where she will compete against more than 250 other contestants.

When asked after the bee if she uses old schoolroom spelling rules, such as, “I before E except after C,” 12-year old Dugan smiled and shook her head.

There are too many exceptions to the rules when it comes to spelling, Dugan explained. Instead, the Morris Central School seventh-grader uses 21st-century methods. 

“I study using the computer,” said Dugan. “I go online at and spell words for hours.” Dugan said she was studying five hours per day the few weeks before the contest.

Dugan will continue to study in preparation for her trip to the national bee. 

“I’m excited about seeing Washington D.C.,” said Dugan, who said she previously visited the U.S. capital when she was younger. 

When she isn’t studying words, Dugan can be found playing sports or practicing the harp, piano, clarinet, or oboe.

“I also read a lot,” said Dugan. “Right now, I’m reading the third book of Harry Potter.”

For anyone interested in entering a spelling contest, Dugan recommended, “Start studying early. Don’t cram.”

Julia Suarez Hayes, assistant professor of English at Hartwick College, and Paul French, associate professor of physics and astronomy at SUNY Oneonta, were the pronouncers and judges.

“We were given the list of words ahead of time to practice the phonetics of each word and speaking the words clearly,” Hayes said. 

The word list comes from the Scripps National Spelling Bee Company, headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The list also contains word definitions, the origin of each word, and a sentence in which the word is used.

Mitchell Lynch, publisher of The Daily Star and master of ceremonies, reminded the contestants, “Ask questions so you know the word you are spelling.”

The Daily Star is a sponsor of the regional bee. 

Second place went to Lilliana Gonzalez of Oxford Academy Middle School and third place went to Alexander Babbie of Edmeston Central School. 

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