Denison’s Austin Crawley is Grayson County Spelling Bee Champ

For the first time in more than three decades, Denison ISD has a Grayson County Spelling Bee Champion.

Eighth grader Austin Crawley, one of Scott Middle School’s best and brightest, earned the highest score on an online test that included 25 spelling words and 25 vocabulary words to win at the county level and advance to the prestigious Dallas Regional Spelling Bee on March 19th.

The 2021 Grayson County Bee, hosted in a computer lab at the Van Alstyne Grayson College Campus on February 4th, was anything but normal. Because of the continuing Covid-19 pandemic, there were no microphones, no audiences, no one calling out the words, no visible panel of judges. Just a very altered environment that did not dampen the determination of Denison’s talented champion.

Austin was seated at a desk in headphones, with a computer serving as his moderator and responder. Once the bee began, he moved seamlessly through both the spelling and vocabulary sections, displaying a maturity and focus beyond his years. In the end, he was crowned champion, a feat that few Denison spellers have ever accomplished.

“It was a great moment,” said Shonda Cannon, Denison ISD Director of Instruction and coordinator of Denison ISD’s campus and district spelling bees. “We are all so proud of his ability to adjust to the changes, concentrate and retain focus. Wow, we have an amazing and talented winner who is already studying for the rigorous Dallas meet!”

Austin says he didn’t really know what to expect until he entered the room.

“I really expected a lot more people…and I didn’t expect to go far,” said Austin, knowing that the competition would be stiff. “I also expected to feel a lot of pressure, but it wasn’t like that at all. I felt like it was a much more stable and calm environment, so I just tried hard and did my best.”

Austin said the hardest word for him was “islet”, but he managed to spell it correctly. “I had studied and learned a lot of words, and my first thought was that it started with “eye”, but I just had to take my time, think about the word and get it right.”

When asked how it makes him feel to be representing Scott Middle School and Denison ISD at the Regional Bee in Dallas, Austin admitted to feeling a sense of pride, and a little case of nerves.

“It’s scary, but it’s also really cool. I think I can handle it,” said Austin. “I want to advance as far as I can go. I have had a lot of good people helping me. My mom has been the most instrumental, calling out all the words for me, over and over. Also, Mr. Chris McClenny (Scott Middle School’s Spelling Bee sponsor) has really helped me prepare well and know what to expect. It’s good to know they’ll still be by my side, helping me prepare for the Dallas Regional meet.”

McClenny, who also teaches English Language Arts at SMS, is in his fifth year of coaching the school’s top spellers.

“To already have a champion after only five years is just so exciting,” said McClenny. “I’m so proud that this program has taken off in this way. It provides opportunities for our kids to shine in spelling, which is not something we always get to capture in academics, and also in vocabulary as well. These kids have worked really hard, and I’m just so proud of Austin.”

Cannon said everyone, coaches and competitors alike, faced a curveball with this year’s competition.

“This bee has always been an oral bee, but not this year,” said Cannon. “Austin and his fellow competitors had to type 25 spelling words they were given, and then define 25 vocabulary words with no prior resources to study. It was tough. Austin did an amazing job with this, and you can be sure we’ll be scouring for vocabulary resources for the next couple of weeks, preparing for that part of the Regional Bee. Chris did a wonderful job helping Austin to prepare. Students are taking pride in participating because of his dedication to building the program. Hats off to both of them. I am just so very proud of what they’ve accomplished.”

John Parker, Principal of Scott Middle School, says it feels very good to finally have a County Champion on his campus. “Like Mrs. Cannon said, Chris has done a wonderful job with Austin and with our other competitors as well. He works at it, and he works so well with the kids…it’s just amazing what they’ve managed to accomplish. I’m so honored that Austin is our Champion. I think he’s the first one in over 30 years. I’m just so very proud of everyone who had a hand in this. We have really exceptional kids and teachers at our school who put in the time and effort it takes to make these great things happen. Austin is already hard at work preparing for the Regional Bee, and we wish him all the best as he moves forward. He’s a tremendous kid and we’re just extremely proud of him!”

Denison ISD’s Austin Crawley, an 8th grader at Scott Middle School, recently won the Grayson County Spelling Bee, qualifying him to compete at the prestigious Dallas Regional Spelling Bee on March 19th. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has forced both bees to convert to rigorous online competitions with no microphones, no audiences, no one calling out the words, and no visible panel of judges.

Scott Middle School officials (from left) Principal John Parker, SMS Spelling Bee sponsor Chris McClenny and Vice Principal Rachael Bennett gathered with SMS 8th grader Austin Crawley (second from left) to celebrate his recent win at the Grayson County Spelling Bee, qualifying to compete in the Regional Bee in Dallas on March 19th. “I’m so honored that Austin is our Champion…the first one in over 30 years,” said Parker. “Austin is already hard at work preparing for the Regional Bee, and we wish him all the best as he moves forward. He’s a tremendous kid and we’re just extremely proud of him!”

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