Aaron Harris clinches the top spot at this year's St. Croix Spelling Bee

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ST. CROIX - Twelve-year-old Aaron Harris claimed the St. Croix District Spelling Bee crown on Friday by carefully spelling "roustabout."

Aaron, a four-year participant in the bee who earned a top spot at the district level three of those years, smiled widely when he realized he'd won. He is an eighth-grader at St. Patrick Catholic School.

"It felt good, the thrill of winning for the last time," he said. "It's just a nice feeling."

Next year, Aaron will be too far along in school to be eligible to compete in the spelling bee.

He, along with the five other top finishers at Friday's bee, will represent St. Croix in the Territorial Spelling Bee on March 7 at Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School on St. Thomas.

Aaron said he thinks this is the year for him to claim the territorial crown.

He noted that last year, he came in second at the territorial level, and the year before, he had been third.

"This year, I plan to come in first," he said.

Friday's competition - showcasing 20 students from public, private and parochial schools on the island - was hotly-contested and went on for 21 rounds, with the final 10 rounds comprising a head-to-head battle between Aaron and Khaien Donawa, a sixth-grader at Claude O. Markoe Elementary School.

The 20 contestants threw their talent and concentration into the bee, and most made it through the first round without issues.

"Earthenware" was the first word that anyone missed during the bee.

Then, quickly, "bonanza," "farthing," "mosque," "embargo" and "bruin" were misspelled.

As the words got harder, the spellers asked more questions, seeking word origins, different pronunciations and definitions.

By Round 5, the field was narrowed down to the six spellers who will represent St. Croix during the territorial bee: Aaron; Khaien; Taiesa Williams of Church of God of Holiness Academy; Jenna Honore of Evelyn Williams Elementary School; Letisha Ayala of Pearl B. Larsen Elementary School; and Tyanna Johnson of AZ Academy.

Eventually, during Round 12, the bee came down to a battle between Aaron and Khaien.

Tensions ran high as the boys took their time at the microphone, correctly spelling words ranging from "winnow" and "corduroy" to "emblazoned" and "photogenic."

In Round 16, Khaien misspelled queue, but then Aaron misspelled "annihilation." The misspelled words put both boys back into the competition.

Then, in Round 20, Khaien misspelled "anonymity," and Aaron claimed the prize by spelling "roustabout."

"My opponent is a good speller, and I knew if I wanted to come in first place, I had to take my time and look for all the options I could get and to speak loud," Aaron said.

The secret to his success, Aaron said, is studying hard. He studied with his coach, Lydia Davis, his parents, sister, and school mates, he said.

He plans to prepare as much as he can before the territorial bee.

"I'll study even harder, challenge myself with new words," he said.

All of the contestants, who won their school bees to earn a berth at the district level, took home some prizes, including backpacks, student planners, lunch bags and pencil and ruler sets.

The six top spellers took home trophies. Aaron also won an iPad, while Khaien won a Kindle and Taiesia won an electronic dictionary.

The winner of the Territorial Spelling Bee in March will go on to represent the territory in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May.

The Daily News is a sponsor of the local spelling bee, as is the Department of Education.

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi.

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