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Local spelling champ heads to national bee

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ALEXANDRIA BAY — Pick a word. Chances are that Dylan J. O’Connor, 12, can spell it.

With his love of watching “Dr. Who,” learning Japanese and memorizing biology taxonomies, the Alexandria Central School student heading to the National Scripps Spelling Bee is no ordinary sixth-grader.

The national bee will be held Tuesday through Thursday at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.

“He has a drive for knowledge, to know how things work,” said his English and homeroom teacher, Nicole Rose. “He goes above and beyond and researches it on his own.”

Dylan has remained on high honor roll since the third grade, when he moved to Alexandria Bay. His parents said that when he gets focused on something, he wants to know everything about it.

“Dylan’s always been very quirky,” said his father, Michael J. O’Connor. “He was probably reading when he was three. He would collect fonts and write the alphabet in anything he could.”

He has been studying one to two hours every day since he was eliminated before the semifinal round of last year’s national spelling bee. To practice and to raise money for the Foundation for Community Betterment, he asked people at last summer’s Paddle for Betterment event to give money if he spelled the word of their choice correctly.

This year, words that used to trip him up, such as “idlesse” and “liquesce,” he has committed to memory. He has the most difficulty spelling words with French endings, but is better with those with German endings, his father said. His favorite word is “schadenfreude,” which means feeling happy about other people’s misfortunes.

“If he spells a letter wrong, he’ll ‘ding’ himself,” said his mother, Alycia A. O’Connor, referring to the sound the bell makes if a word is spelled wrong at the spelling bee.

Mr. O’Connor said Dylan makes the most mistakes when he tries to spell too quickly, so he encourages his son to ask lots of questions, such as other pronunciations of the word and language of origin.

When he is not studying, Dylan spends a lot of time on the computer, listens to classical music, collects Pokemon cards and watches his new favorite show, the British production “Dr. Who.”

“On Fridays, my family and I speak with British accents,” Dylan said.

His love of Pokemon led to an obsession with learning Japanese so he can watch the show. Alexandria Central teaches only French for a foreign language, so he had to learn it on his own.

“I think it’s a really fun language,” he said.

If Dylan wins the spelling bee, he plans to spend part of the $30,000 prize on a trip to England, because that’s where “Dr. Who” is produced.

All around his school are pictures and posters to support Dylan as he heads to compete in the 86th annual Scripps Spelling bee.

“We’re very proud of him,” Alexandria Elementary Principal Michelle L. Law said. “He has two more years to compete and we hope he goes again next year.”

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