Academy Middle School grammar teacher and spelling bee coach Dana Everett said if there are any words she could have her kids remember for Saturday’s 85th annual Bell County Spelling Bee at the Temple Civic Theatre, she has two in mind.

“Breathe and think,” she said. “They need to stay calm and think it through.”

Pattie Marek, the spelling bee’s coordinator for the past 15 years and Newspapers In Education coordinator for competition sponsor the Temple Daily Telegram, agrees that calming the nerves of these preteens is the best start by lending words of encouragement.

“We just talk to them,” Marek said. “I give them a little speech beforehand and help guide them.”

Seventh-grader Kaylah Taylor will be first up out of 51 spellers since she is the highest-ranked student returning to the competition after placing third last year.

The competition will consist of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders across 18 area schools.

First place will take home a $100 cash prize along with the competition’s traveling trophy, which will be displayed at the winner’s school for a year. Second place will win $50 and third, $25. All three winners will be presented with a plaque to take home.

Everett has four students ready for the competition, including Kaylah, for whom she has high expectations.

“We have been going over the procedures and how the day will go in general,” she said. “We are looking at the difficulty-sequence words right now since we spent the rest of the time going over all the other words.”

Everett jokingly said that sometimes the words on the list can even be a challenge for adults.

“I know there is a word that I can’t even pronounce that is on the difficulty-sequence list. I can’t remember it though,” she said with a laugh. “I couldn’t even tell you how to spell it right now.”

Everett said like any challenging word, she has her kids pull out the dictionary and in addition to the spelling and definition, she also stresses that the kids constantly review and remember each word’s pronunciation.

Marek said students received packets in November with about 1,000 University Interscholastic League words, rules and tips on improving study habits.

She said this year they are holding the competition earlier than usual, but still have about the same number of students participating.

She said while some students are acknowledged on the field for their athletic performance, the spelling bee gives these students a chance to be recognized for their academic achievements.

“It is such a good process because they get to get out there and perform and show how hard they work,” she said. “They might not get the typical, ‘Good touchdown!’ but they spelled a word and these kids are the ones that are going to end up being the doctors and lawyers.”

Everett said this is a big deal to her students and she was floored when she saw the number of kids who were interested.

“I actually had more kids sign up this year than I have in the past,” she said. “I think a lot of it is because of how I approach my teaching as a teacher.”

“You just don’t expect kids to want to take extra time out of their already busy schedule to sign up for something that is literally just looking at spelling words, which can be tedious,” she said. “So when I found out I had that many students who were interested, it made me excited.”

The pronouncer will be D. Kirkland, Temple College speech instructor and the three returning judges include: Linda Barnes, Temple College administrative assistant to the College of Marketing and Media Relations; Leigh Gardner, director of the Temple Public Library; and the Rev. Roscoe Harrison, pastor of the Eighth Street Baptist Church in Temple.

Marek said some years they don’t get very far on the list, but other years the competition has been so stiff that they have made it to the high school difficulty level.

“One time we had a kid who competed all three years and got first place twice and second place one time,” she said.